We all know dog owners who swear that the beloved Fido can sense when something is wrong. They may say that they know when their owners are feeling down. But is there any scientific proof that these pet owners might be right? Can dogs truly sense when their owners are under stress?
Research has steadily been showing that the answer is … yes. In fact, not only can dogs sense when humans are under stress, but they can respond accordingly. The ability of animals to sense human emotion and act on it has recently been studied in birds, horses, cats, and of course, dogs.
When a human is under duress, their body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is also known as the human "stress hormone" due to its release during periods of tension. Although it is invisible (and odorless) to us humans, dogs have been found to be able to detect the presence of cortisol in a person's sweat glands. Not only this, but in an intriguing study conducted in 2012, researchers found that forty-nine professional rescue dogs –that had undergone over five months of training with members of the Swiss army– actually displayed physical signs of distress such as panting, in response to their trainer's stress.
This finding indicates that dogs have the capacity to empathize with their owners' stress levels and react accordingly. Dogs can also tell when their owners are in distress through their body language. Humans tend to exhibit certain nonverbal signs when under pressure, such as slumped shoulders, tensing jaw, and furrowing of the brow. When humans display these behaviors, our canine friends can quickly understand what we are feeling and adjust their own behavior.
But it doesn't stop there. Research has also revealed that interacting with a dog can help us to manage stress levels. Feeling connected to our pets has values benefits, lifting our moods and bringing joy into our lives. Our emotional bond, coupled with the fact that petting or stroking our four-legged friends can prompt calming physiological effects such as lower blood pressure, explains why dogs can help us relax.
The fascinating research on the emotional bond between humans and dogs continues to develop. We now know that the bond between people and their fur babies runs deep, allowing us to connect with one another even if we don't share a single word. This connection definitely has the capacity to transcend species boundaries and last lifetimes. So keep that in mind the next time you come across a pet owner. Just because their furry friend isn't verbalizing it doesn't mean that they aren't sensitive to your emotional state. Chances are, the answer is yes, Fido can sense when you're stressed and is ready to offer some comfort.