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Have you been stressing out your dog?

FILE. Dogs can feel our stress.
January 31, 2021 - 2:10 PM

If there’s one creature that had a good 2020, it was probably your dog.

More time spent with our four-legged friends has been one of the few silver linings of a lengthy pandemic.

But according to new research, it’s not necessarily been a perfect time for pooches.  A Swedish study published in  Nature’s Scientific Reports shows that your anxiety could cause stress in your dog.

In a deep dive into the study, the BCSPCA reports that a research team studied 58 dog owners and their pets, including 33 Shetland sheepdogs and 25 border collies.

“Concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol were collected over several months from their hair and fur (respectively). Cortisol is a measure of physiological stress, which can be raised during mental distress and can also slightly increase from illness and exercise,”  according to the BCSPCA.

“The results? A significant correlation between human and dog cortisol levels that spanned the length of a year.”

Over the summer, the cortisol levels of 57 dogs matched those of their owners. The same was true for 55 dogs in the winter. Which means the stress levels of the dogs increased and decreased according to the levels of their guardians.”

This correlation was influenced by the guardian’s personality and not by the dog’s personality or activity levels. The owners with higher stress levels had dogs with higher stress levels too with female dogs being more affected than their male counterparts.

While the study did not identify any causes of elevated stress in the dog owners, it does indicate that regardless of the cause of the stress, our reaction to it affects our dogs.

Signs of anxiety are specific to the individual dog, and can include panting, excessive yawning, restlessness, inability to pay attention, repetitive behaviours, shaking, loss of appetite, or extreme attention-seeking behaviours. In some dogs, anxiety is manifested by social withdrawal, avoidance behaviours, or a profound lack of behaviour (‘shut-down’ behaviour).

Dr. Karen van Haaften, the BC SPCA’s senior manager of behaviour and welfare, said in a press release that dogs can suffer from different kinds of anxiety – triggered by certain noises or specific situations such as car rides or nail trims.

Dogs can also suffer from more generalized anxiety in which there are multiple triggers for anxiety.

“Some dogs are more prone to anxiety due to genetic factors or lack of socialization during their sensitive socialization period of six to 16 weeks,” she said.

But the good news is, things that calm them can calm us as well.

The simple act of petting our animals has a calming effect on us, Ashley Phillips, a Kelowna-based psychotherapist and clinical counsellor said in the SPCA press release.

“Doing so releases serotonin, oxytocin, and prolixin in our bodies hormones that help us regulate our nervous system and helps us calm down and soothe.”

In addition to relieving stress and anxiety, these hormones are also associated with relaxation, warm feelings, and connection, which creates bonding between us and our pets.

To read more about stress and dogs, read the full SPCA release.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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