Dogs may mirror stress levels of owners – study

Dogs appear to mirror the stress levels of their owners, according to a new study.

The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests dog owners who are stressed are more likely to have a pet which feels the same.

It is believed to be the first time a study has shown “synchronisation” of long-term stress between two different species “sharing everyday life”, the researchers said.

The researchers, from Linkoping University in Sweden, studied 58 dogs – 33 Shetland sheepdogs and 25 border collies – and their owners, who were all women.

Pet dogs may reflect their owners' stress levels (Ben Birchall/ PA)
Pet dogs may reflect their owners' stress levels (Ben Birchall/ PA)

They measured the concentration of stress hormone cortisol in a sample of hair from each dog and owner, on two separate occasions.

Ann-Sofie Sundman, lead author of the study, said: “We found that the levels of long-term cortisol in the dog and its owner were synchronised, such that owners with high cortisol levels have dogs with high cortisol levels, while owners with low cortisol levels have dogs with low levels.”

Meanwhile, the personalities of the dogs and owners were also analysed by the researchers.

“Surprisingly enough, we found no major effect of the dog’s personality on long-term stress,” said Lina Roth, principal investigator of the study.

“The personality of the owner, on the other hand, had a strong effect. This has led us to suggest that the dog mirrors its owner’s stress.”

The researchers will now study other breeds to assess whether the findings can be replicated, and look at whether the sex of the owner plays a role.