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This is the first time stress had been shown to be transferable between species, as it had long been known that human stress is felt by other humans.
The scientists studied 58 dogs, border collies and Shetland sheepdogs, and their owners. The owners were asked to undergo a Big Five Inventory survey, which was created in the 1960’s and ranks the levels in which humans experience openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
Once the owners were diagnosed, the dogs underwent a Dog Personality Questionnaire (DPQ). Created by Dr. Amanda Jones at the University of Texas, the DPQ is designed to evaluate the suitability of dogs that might be employed as rescue and service dogs.
Stress levels in both humans and pets were monitored using hair samples that checked for the presence of cortisol, a stress-related chemical released to the bloodstream when the body is stressed.
The study concluded that, according to the hair samples, humans and dogs felt similar levels of stress. The findings did not change in accordance to the amount of outdoor activity the dogs had—if their owners were stressed, they were stressed in a similar way.
No evidence was found to prove that stress levels in humans can be relieved by interacting with a non-stressed dog, although that emotional experience is often felt by dog lovers.
Dr. Lina Roth of Linkoping University in Sweden told NBC that one reason might be that people are “a more central part of the dog’s life, whereas we humans also have other social networks.”
She was careful to note that further study is needed to better understand the complex and intimate relationship between dogs and humans.
It is also possible that humans and dogs do not experience stress in the same way. Not all stress is negative—a dog might feel stress before going for a walk as a human might feel stressed before a much-anticipated romantic date, for example.
Noting that dogs who engage in play show less signs of stress, Roth recommended that people should spend time with their dogs and “have fun.”
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