The Best Therapist Has Fur And Four Legs
We have all heard about how dogs and cats can help humans control their stress. Colleges bring in puppies during finals to help students de-stress. It is not unusual to see dogs comforting children who are testifying in court. Hospitals are allowing therapy animals to help patients heal quicker and keep spirits high. More and more workplaces are also welcoming pets to relieve the stress of business life. No one that has experienced the stress reducing benefits of a loving animal will dispute their relaxing power. But what about the animals?
A new study in Scientific Reports* that was released in June of this year, asked just such a question. A Swedish research team studied 58 Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs along with their female owners to see if human stress was transferred to the canine companions. The researchers analyzed hair samples from both the dog and their owner once in the summer months and again in the winter months. The scientists were looking at the concentrations of the hormone cortisol. They also asked each owner to fill out a personality survey for both themselves and their dog.
But before I give you the testing results, you might be asking what is cortisol and why is it important? According to WebMD, cortisol is your stress hormone. It is released into your body anytime you are under stress and helps your body to cope with the stress. Dogs have the same hormone and it functions in the same way. Our hair absorbs the cortisol produced in our bodies over time, thus giving a better long term picture of our stress levels.
After looking at all of the data, the research team determined that dogs mirrored their human’s stress levels. The cortisol levels in the dog hair closely matched the cortisol level in their human’s hair in both the summer and winter, which indicates that the dogs mirrored the stress levels of their owners rather than the owners responding to the stress in their dogs.
The activity levels of the dogs were factored into the study but the amount of activity did not seem to affect the cortisol levels. It seemed that the personality trait of the humans affected the dogs more than anything else. Some of the dogs studied were in competitions, like agility work, with their owners. These athletic dogs showed more synchronization with their owners stress levels than dogs that are regular pets. The team felt that this was due to a closer bond between the two because of more time spent working together.
I thought that this was a fascinating study and one that the researchers are hoping to continue with more dog breeds. So as much as we love the comfort that our canine companions give to us we need to be mindful of the stress that they take on as well.
Tips To Relieve Stress In Both You And Your Dog:
- Take a walk! Getting out in nature is good for both you and your pup. Exercise gets the blood flowing as well as boosting your endorphins!
- Get a massage. A spa day does the body good! This goes for your canine as well. There are many videos on YouTube on how to give your furry friend a well deserved massage.
- Have some fun together! Getting away from what is stressing you out and clearing your head is good for both of you. Go to a park and play ball, play in some water, nap under a tree or snuggle in the grass.