Pets often serve as a source of stress relief for their owners, but a new study shows that the relationship between a pet and its owner can also be a source of unhealthy stress.
According to researchers from Linköping University, dogs can experience higher levels of stress depending on the nature of their relationship with their owners. The team also found that owners’ personalities can have an effect on their pets’ stress.
“In our previous study we found dogs of the herding breed group to synchronize with their owners in long-term stress,” the researchers wrote.
Understanding dogs’ stress levels
To determine how the dog-owner relationship can impact dogs’ stress levels, the researchers analyzed cortisol levels in different dog breeds and their owners to evaluate stress levels. They were primarily interested in looking at the differences between certain dog breeds. The study participants also gave insights into their relationships with their dogs, their own personalities, and the positives and negatives of pet ownership.
Ultimately, the researchers learned that, regardless of the breed, the dog-owner relationship can impact dogs’ stress levels. The level of emotional attachment that owners feel towards their dogs, how often they positively interact with each other, and how owners feel about the cost associated with their pets can all positively or negatively affect dogs’ stress levels.
The study also showed that owners’ personality traits affect their dogs’ stress, but the different breeds were affected in different ways. The researchers explained that hunting breeds were more likely to experience stress as a result of their owners’ personalities than certain "ancient" breeds that are closely related to wolves.
The researchers also used findings from an earlier study to determine the long-term impacts that the dog-owner relationship can have on dogs’ stress. They explained that herding dogs, like border collies or German shepherds, are the most likely to carry long-term stress based on their owners’ stress; the team attributes this to the fact that these kinds of dogs are bred to live closely with humans.