Long-term stress in dogs linked to the owner-dog relationship

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owner-dog relationship
Photo: Tat’yana Andreyeva 123RF

The relationship a dog has with its owner is related to its stress level. This is the conclusion of a newly published study from Sweden. 

The results, published in Scientific Reports, also suggest that the link between stress and the owner’s personality traits differs between dog breeds.

Researchers at Linköping University investigated whether the stress levels of dogs are affected by the people they live with, determining stress levels in both dogs and humans for the past several months by measuring the levels of the stress hormone cortisol stored in their hair.

They were specifically interested in whether there are differences between different dog breeds, especially bred for for different tasks. 

The study included 18 dogs from breeds that have been bred for independent hunting, such as the Swedish elkhound. A second group included dogs from ancient breeds that are genetically more closely related to the wolf than other breeds. This group comprised 24 dogs from breeds such as the Siberian husky. 

All owners completed questionnaires about their own personality and that of their dog. They also answered questions about their relationship with their dog.

“The results showed that the owner’s personality affected the stress level in hunting dogs, but interestingly enough not in the ancient dogs. In addition, the relationship between the dog and the owner affected the stress level of the dogs. This was the case for both types, but the result was less marked for the ancient dogs,” Lina Roth said.

In a previous study, the same researchers had seen that dogs from herding breeds, which have been genetically selected for their ability to collaborate with humans, mirror the long-term stress level of their owner. When the researchers added this new information about the relationship of the herding dogs to their owner, it became clear that the relationship was significant for the long-term stress levels also in these dogs.

The researchers conclude that long-term stress is influenced least strongly by the owner and their relationship to the dog for ancient breeds. In hunting dogs, there were clear links between both the personality of the owner and their relationship to the dog, but it is only herding dogs that demonstrate unique synchronisation with the long-term stress of the owner.

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