“Dogs are quite good at understanding humans,” says Lina Roth, a senior author and also a zoologist at Sweden’s Linkoping University. “They’re definitely better at understanding us than we are at understanding them,” she continues.
While it may seem like dogs only play, eat, bark, or sleep, those are not the only things that they do. The man’s best friend knows very well how to sympathize with its hooman.
Our canine friends may get sympathetically stressed out in response to their owners’ anxieties, according to a study in the journal Scientific Reports. Researchers in Sweden found that dogs’ anxiety levels rose along with those of their humans, implying that the pets are highly attuned to their human companions’ moods.
Roth and her colleagues looked at 58 dog-owner duos: 33 Shetland sheepdogs and 25 border collies, and the owners were all human women. To measure just how stressed their participants were over a period of several months, the scientists analyzed hair and fur samples for concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol. While cortisol in the bloodstream can quickly spike and drop in “fight-or-flight” situations, consistently high levels of the hormone are associated with chronic stress—the kind of mental strain that comes with a more persistent problem, like unemployment or institutional racism. As hair grows, it accumulates cortisol [that can] serve as a chemical record of these long-term stress levels.
After measuring samples from two different time points to account for seasonal changes, the scientists found that when humans had high cortisol levels, their dogs did too. While earlier studies had shown examples of immediate “stress contagion” in high-pressure situations like competitions, authors write that this is the first evidence for long-term stress syncing between species.
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