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Coming home stressed? Your dog is internalizing those bad vibes too, study suggests

Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

The new research suggests some intriguing trends for researchers to explore in the future. The stress levels of female dogs were a closer match to the stress of their owners than they were for male dogs. The same was true of dogs engaged in competitive agility and other intensive training activities compared to dogs that served strictly as companions.

And for dog owners who work outside the home or who don't have a fenced-in space for their pets to wander unattended, the study provided some comforting news: Canine cortisol levels did not vary as a function of either condition.

Roth, a biologist who specializes in canine and equine cognition, said her group's past research with German shepherds has found that play and similar affectionate interactions are the key factor in tamping down dogs' anxieties. Exercise and access to green spaces are great, she said, but "if we just interact with the dog in a positive way, we do give the dog what it wants. Have fun with your dog."

She added that follow-up studies are already planned to explore the impact of dogs' and owners' genders on long-term emotional synchrony, and to learn why and with whom our pets' most powerful attachments are made. While border collies and Shetland sheepdogs are known for their friendliness and ability to be attuned to humans, other breeds and those of mixed backgrounds need to be studied as well, she said.

Dogs' dependence on humans -- not just for food and shelter but for emotional well-being -- has grown pretty lopsided, Roth said. That's why it's important to explore the possibility that dogs' inner lives are powerfully affected by their guardians' mental health.

 

'We are quite a central part of their world," Roth said. "We have work, and other circles of friends. But for a dog, we are almost everything. Under those circumstances, it's important to know, who is synchronizing with whom?"

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