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Stressed owners have stressed dogs...

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 14:02

Are you stressed out, pessimistic? Chances are you dog is it too. The emotional state of people has a profound effect on their dog. Which has been established by researchers at the University of Vienna. There is also a clear difference between male and female dog owners. Author of the study is Iris Schöberl, behavioral biologist at the University of Vienna.

Previous research had shown that so-called dyadic partners (partners in pairs) have a mutual interaction on stress levels. Remains one partner calm and relaxed, the other partner will lose its stress a lot faster. But conversely, if a partner is more stressed, stress level also increases with the partner. Not only between humans,, dogs appear also to be in need of  social and emotional support from  their human owners.


132 Dogs and their owners were tested at the University of Vienna, in different test situations. For example, in normal situations, but also in situations where a so-called threatener with ski cap with only the eyes visible, was coming at the dog. As well as the dog was on its own, also with the owner present. Thereafter, saliva samples were taken at both the owner and the dogs, to see if there was a change in the stress hormone cortisol. Together with a questionnaire this had to give the answer.

The main results: in dogs whose owners are pessimistic or have an ambivalent attachment to their own dog, a worse stress management was observed. And dogs from  owners who had a very open personality, showed that they coped better with stress. They can faster adjust to the situation, even an intimidating one.

Dogs are so sensitive to the emotional state of their owner. It is emotional contagion between owners and dogs also As dogs can fear and negative expectations of neurotic owners actually "show" in their own cortisol levels. Interestingly, the cortisol increase is evident after stressful stimuli but that cortisol levels in dogs with tense owners in the morning are just low, so it is clearly the direct action, and not a general state of the environment or the owner that increases the stress-level of the dog.


The personality of the dog itself has very little influence on this. It is true that if owners consider their dogs as "cool" and easygoing, the stress is less, perhaps because a walk with an "easy" dog happens to be much nicer than a walk with an uncertain, nervous or fearful dog.

Uncertain or ambivalent attachment of owners to their dogs is also associated with low cortisol variability in dogs. Simply put, if the dog is unsure of the attitude of his owner to him, the dog will have more variation in cortisol release, so more stress and sudden stresses.

But surprisingly also the sexe of the owner is of interest. Especially male dogs appear much more relaxed  when they are elated by their boss than by their "female".

Especially male dogs appear much more relaxed  when they are elated by their boss than by their "female"

Men tend to show relatively higher cortisol increases when their social prestige is challenged, while experiencing social rejection is a more powerful trigger for women. Furthermore, women report more anxiety and less luck than men after a social stress test Men and women differ not only in their social accents and coping strategies (dealing with situations) but also show differences in their interactions with and attitudes towards animals Women seek stronger emotional relationships with companion animals than men and girls are looking for more contact with animals than boys


During domestication, dogs became highly adapted to human life; so small variations in the interaction styles of the owner may have different effects on the physiological and behavioral responses of dogs. Dogs can probably distinguish between human men and women, and  adjust their behavior (to the sexe) of the owner. For example, male dogs of female owners are less sociable and relaxed than males of male owners .Tthe researchers think the following explanation is suitable, coming from an earlier pilot study (2009):

Cautiously interpreted, this may mean that a more relaxed interaction style of women with their male dogs combined with the evolutionary disposition of dogs to be sex-sensitive in their social interactions with human companions prompts these dogs to assume a different social role when associated with a woman than with a man. In the wolf ancestors of dogs, positions in the hierarchy are mainly contested within the sexes and alphas tend to be socially distant and tense. There may still be social dispositions of this kind in dogs , which they extend to their human companions. In interaction with a self-confident male owner, a male dog will assume the beta-position, but it may adopt the social alpha role in at least some contexts when with a female owner. Because of the separate female and male dominance ranks in packs, this will hardly produce a dominance conflict in women–male dog dyads, but may well be a source of friction in men–male dog dyads.

According to the  researchers this is something also to consider at dog schools and other training situations, because of the dog's behavior is thus greatly influenced by his human partner (s). For now, it seems the best for owners to relax before a walk,   your dog enjoys more of it, so do you.


Psychobiological Factors Affecting Cortisol Variability in Human-Dog Dyads