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Do Dogs Know When We’re Stressed? What They Can Sense

Written by: Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Last Updated on April 10, 2024 by Dogster Team

well behaved dog looking at his owner while sleeping

Do Dogs Know When We’re Stressed? What They Can Sense

They say that the dog is man’s best friend, and that’s for good reason. Canines are fun to hang out with, they provide constant companionship, and they’re undeniably loyal to their human caretakers. Furthermore, a recent study has revealed that dogs have the capacity to know when their human counterparts are feeling stressed out. This may help explain why so many breeds can be trained as emotional-support dogs. So, how do we know that dogs can sense our stress? Read on to find out.

Answers From An Insightful Study

Although various studies have been done in the past regarding the belief that dogs can detect stress in humans, it wasn’t until a study published in PLOS ONE in September 2022 that we learned that dogs can actually tell the difference between a human’s baseline odors and their stress-related odors.1 The study involved collecting sweat and breath samples from human participants at their baseline levels and then after the stress was induced through the task of solving arithmetic problems.

A total of 36 humans participated, along with four dogs. A total of 36 trial sessions were conducted. Phase one consisted of the dogs identifying the human participants’ baseline samples from the blank samples. Phase two consisted of presenting the dogs with both the baseline and stress samples of the human participants to see if they could determine which was which. Surprisingly, the dogs performed with 90% or better accuracy.

As Smithsonian Magazine points out, dogs have hundreds of millions of olfactory receptors, which help communicate whatever a dog smells to their brain.2 The average human has 50 million olfactory receptors, so it’s no wonder that a dog can detect things that we can’t through smell, including stress hormones.

Maltese dog likes the owner to show him his tongue to imitate him
Image By: Banedeki, Shutterstock

Your Stress Can Be Passed On to Your Dog

When you’re stressed out all the time, your cortisone levels can remain raised, which is something that your dog can easily detect. Stress hormones are preserved in the air, so they don’t just disappear when your stress levels ease. If you often tend to feel stressed out, your dog may always smell the stress on you. Furthermore, all the stress that you emit can rub off on your dog and make them stressed and anxious themselves.

Unfortunately, we can’t hide our stress from our dogs like we might be able to with coworkers, friends, and even family members. So, there isn’t much that you can do to protect your dog from your high-stress levels.

How Your Dog Might React When They Sense Your Stress

Just as you might show signs of stress when your body is full of stress hormones, your dog may show similar signs due to the stress that they’ve developed for whatever reason. Although dogs can develop stress and anxiety without any help from humans, chances are that any stress that they have is at least partially due to their owner’s actions or stress levels.

Here is how your dog might react when they sense your stress and start developing stress themselves:
  • Distance from the family
  • Increased aggression
  • Enhanced shyness
  • Exaggerated whining and barking
  • Excessive drooling, yawning, and/or licking
  • Abnormal shedding
  • Changes in bathroom habits
  • Tendency to hide

Keeping your own stress levels under control is the most effective way to stave off stress in your dog. However, even if you are not stressed yourself, there might still be lifestyle situations that are stressing out your dog and should be addressed. So, it’s a good idea to visit your veterinarian to determine what’s causing that stress so it can be eliminated or at least decreased.

crying woman at home and dog licking her
Image By: leungchopan, Shutterstock

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Your dog can sense those stressful moments that you have in your life, whether they are occasional or consistent, and you can pass those stressful feelings onto them. Therefore, it’s a good idea to take steps to help control your stress levels as time goes on. Consider going on daily walks with your dog, heading to the gym more often, and discussing your stress levels with your doctor to determine if you have an underlying health condition.

Featured Image Credit: Igor Normann, Shutterstock

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