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FootprintsinSand

Are we stressing our dogs out?

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https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-06-07/your-mental-health-can-affect-your-dog/11188804

 

How your mental health can affect your dog

By Bronwyn Orr

Posted about an hour ago

If you think your dog looks stressed out, it might be your own stress levels that are affecting your pet pooch.

A study published on Thursday in Nature's Scientific Reports shows pet dogs may synchronise their stress levels with those of their owners.

More than just being man's best friend, it appears our pet dogs may be mirroring our mental state too, and that can be bad for their health.

It's all in the hair

Swedish researchers studied 58 dogs — 33 Shetland Sheepdogs and 25 Border Collies — as well as their owners. The dogs selected were balanced for sex, breed and activity level.

Both dog and owner personality was assessed through standardised personality questionnaires, with owners filling out the Dog Personality Questionnaire on behalf of their pet.

 

The researchers also measured the hormone cortisol in the hair of dogs and their owners over a year-long period.

Cortisol is a measure of physiological stress, which can be raised during mental distress. But it's also elevated for short periods such as during exercise and illness.

Cortisol found in hair is a good way of measuring long-term trends in stress levels, as hair grows slowly (about one centimetre per month) and absorbs circulating substances from the blood.

Impact on dogs

The results showed a significant correlation between human and dog cortisol levels across the year.

In 57 of the dogs in summer and 55 in winter, cortisol levels matched those of their owners. This means that for these dogs, their cortisol levels rose and fell in unison with their owner's.

 

This correlation was not influenced by dog activity levels or dog personality. It was, however, influenced by the personality of the dog's owner.

Owners with higher stress levels tended to have dogs with higher stress levels too.

Female dogs had a stronger connection with their owner's stress levels compared with male dogs. Previous studies have shown that female dogs (as well as rats and chimpanzees) are more emotionally responsive than males.

There's also evidence that increased oxytocin (the love and bonding hormone) in female dogs results in increased interactions with their owner, causing a corresponding increase in the owner's oxytocin levels. This effect wasn't seen in male dogs.

A limiting factor to the new study was that it did not identify any causes of elevated stress in the dog owners. But what it does show is that regardless of the cause of the stress, our reaction to it impacts our dogs.

Our relationship with dogs

Researchers have long discussed the concept of what is called the "human-dog dyad", a close bond between humans and dogs. This relationship, developed over 15,000 years, is unique in the animal world.

 

There is evidence to suggest dogs evolved alongside us and consequently are in tune with our emotionsand bond with us through eye contact.

Although many aspects of this inter-species relationship are positive (particularly for us), it's likely there are some drawbacks to this close relationship with dogs.

Like many animals, we can share diseases with our dogs such as the superbug MRSA and Q Fever. What's more, dog bites are an issue of increasing importance to society.

We know that failing to providing basic care like food and shelter is cruel, but we often overlook how disregarding the mental lives of our pets can also negatively impact their welfare.

Helping our dogs cope

Dogs are sentient animals. This means they can experience both positive and negative emotions, such as pleasure, comfort, fear, and anxiety.

A poor mental state, where a dog is regularly experiencing negative emotions such as anxiety, can lead to poor animal welfare. If owners have an impact on the stress levels of their dogs, it means we also play a role in protecting their welfare.

 

The impact we have on our dog's stress levels goes both ways - positive and negative. If we reduce our own stress levels, it's likely we will also reduce our dog's stress levels.

We know chronic stress is bad for both humans and dogs, increasing the likelihood we will get sick as well as decreasing our quality of life.

If you don't work on decreasing your stress levels for your own sake, perhaps you will do it for your dog. There are great resources available for decreasing stress levels, and the good news is that some of them, such as getting out in nature, can be done with your dog right by your side.

Bronwyn Orr is a veterinarian and PhD student at the University of Sydney. This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

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What I see as a problem with the above is that the stressed owners fill out the questionnaire on behalf of their dogs. Do stressed people more readily see stress in others (people or dogs) than the non-stressed? In other words do we think that others (dogs or people) experience life the same as we do? 

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Snook   
1 hour ago, FootprintsinSand said:

What I see as a problem with the above is that the stressed owners fill out the questionnaire on behalf of their dogs. Do stressed people more readily see stress in others (people or dogs) than the non-stressed? In other words do we think that others (dogs or people) experience life the same as we do? 

Perhaps, although the stress levels were also shown in the hair samples and not just based on reporting by the owners. 

 

I think our stress levels and mental health can certainly impact on our dogs. I've seen it in my dog even over minor things like my friend and I raising our voices while discussing something (not even remotely arguing, just getting very animated or excited over something) and we have to drop our volume and reassure him that everything's okay. He has also been diagnosed with anxiety, noise phobia and the dog equivalent of PTSD since the second dog attack in the space of just over a month, and has been significantly more sensitive to my stress since that attack. I've also seen another dog who was very happy and chilled in the care of a rescue, display significant behavioural issues in the care of an adopter with mental health issues, then revert to a happy and chilled dog back in the care of the rescuer months later. 

 

At the same time, dogs with anxiety issues can increase the stress levels of their owners. I see it often in the group set up for clients of my dog's vet behaviourist. 

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I think it is all not s simple as the report makes out. Noise phobia I believe is inherited. Only one of my dogs has ever had  a noise phobia so I think it is nothing to do with me. I am not worried about thunder lightning etc. and hopefully my dogs have picked up the cue from me. At the moment of my two dogs one has no anxiety about thunder, but the other, my anxious dog, totally freaks out when there is lightning or thunder. I also believe it is crucial that when a dog is attacked the owner stay calm which is a big ask I know, but your anxiety about the attack is transferred to the dog. After all it is natural for dogs to spar to move up the pecking order in their pack. (Sorry I haven't expressed that very well. I am getting old and sometimes I struggle with finding the right words.) I know I probably damaged my dogs by freaking out when they were attacked and screaming for someone to come and help. After they were attacked (twice in three days) I became so tense and anxious whenever we saw another dog that I know they were aware of it and became anxious too. These days whenever we pass a dog barking behind a fence I give them a treat. I don't say anything because your voice gives away your anxiety but I guess you all know all of this.

 

I thought it was interesting about the difference between male and female dogs. I have only owned two male dogs and I can't say I noticed any difference.

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Snook   

I can only speak for my dog but his noise phobia isn't inherited. He was never bothered by any loud noises, and I used to have doors and windows open during storms and fireworks, without him batting an eyelid. The second serious attack blindsided us both and neither of us saw the dog until it was going for my dog's throat (it had been tied up behind a sandwich board and blocked from our view aswecame down the path). I suspect that metal umbrella stand the dog was tied to coming crashing down on to pavers as the dog launched and attacked, has probably triggered the noise phobia. 

 

I agree that our responses contribute to how our dogs react to things and they're much more perceptive than a lot of people give them credit for. 

 

I thought the difference between the sexes was interesting too. I've only ever had the one dog as an adult and he's very attuned to my emotions and responses. 

Edited by Snook
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I'm not sure findings from Shetland sheep dogs and border collies can be generalized to all dogs.  In my experience in the boarding kennel, BCs are particularly high strung (we didn't get any Shetland sheep dogs so can't say, there). 

I've owned Labs in periods of high stress.  Their reaction to my blow outs was consistently calm and soothing.  Perhaps they were affected... it would be interesting to have cortisol measurements, say, from dogs trained to work with people suffering from PTSD or severe spectrum disorders. 

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12 hours ago, Snook said:

I can only speak for my dog but his noise phobia isn't inherited. He was never bothered by any loud noises, and I used to have doors and windiws open during storms and fireworks, without him batting an eyelid.  

This is interesting Snook. I keep wondering about gunshy gundogs and I know some people recommend that a gundog that is gunshy should not be bred from. I have googled it and there does not seem to be a consensus of opinion about it. I don't know how to tag people here but perhaps sandgrubber has some information. My noise sensitive dog is a mixed breed but none of my boxers cared at all about noises and they were highly strung in that they were super excitable or perhaps it was me. One of my horses, a part arab, was also highly strung or super excitable, but my other horses were mostly calm but I am becoming irrelevant. We are talking about dogs.

 

I am also thinking that it might be more complicated than we realise. Maybe noise sensitivity can be learned as well as inherited. Maybe there is a gene for it and it just has to be switched on. Maybe it is more likely to be switched on if the owner is stressed. Just thoughts.

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4 hours ago, sandgrubber said:

I'm not sure findings from Shetland sheep dogs and border collies can be generalized to all dogs.  In my experience in the boarding kennel, BCs are particularly high strung (we didn't get any Shetland sheep dogs so can't say, there). 

I've owned Labs in periods of high stress.  Their reaction to my blow outs was consistently calm and soothing.  Perhaps they were affected... it would be interesting to have cortisol measurements, say, from dogs trained to work with people suffering from PTSD or severe spectrum disorders. 

I agree that the sample is limited and what you say is interesting in that my anxious dog definitely has some border collie in her mix. I also had a couple of border collies when I was a child (1950s) before it was a recognised breed. One of them was a calm dog and a great mate. The other was off the planet with his stress and would chase anything that moved even cars and buses. I have never had a shetland sheep dog but they are reputed to be barkers which is possibly a symptom of stress. When we start discussing temperament in dogs I do think that different breeds have different temperaments and the study has not taken this into account.

 

I also thought about therapy dogs and it is often recommended that anxious people get a dog to help them relax and I have no doubt that some dogs do this very well. I wonder if some breeds make better therapy dogs than others.

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42 minutes ago, FootprintsinSand said:

This is interesting Snook. I keep wondering about gunshy gundogs and I know some people recommend that a gundog that is gunshy should not be bred from. I have googled it and there does not seem to be a consensus of opinion about it. I don't know how to tag people here but perhaps sandgrubber has some information. My noise sensitive dog is a mixed breed but none of my boxers cared at all about noises and they were highly strung in that they were super excitable or perhaps it was me. One of my horses, a part arab, was also highly strung or super excitable, but my other horses were mostly calm but I am becoming irrelevant. We are talking about dogs.

 

I am also thinking that it might be more complicated than we realise. Maybe noise sensitivity can be learned as well as inherited. Maybe there is a gene for it and it just has to be switched on. Maybe it is more likely to be switched on if the owner is stressed. Just thoughts.

NO GUNSHY GUNDOG SHOULD BE BRED.  FULL STOP.  And it should be an automatic disqualification. Not fit for purpose. A gunshy dog is not a gun dog. 

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Of course dogs can get stressed by what is happening with the humans connected to them . 
That was one of the tricky things in Guide Dog training/selection ... picking the correct temperament for the new owner - some folks needed a dog who was not terribly sensitive ..who would just plod along , without ups & downs ...some folks would thrive with a dog with whom they could form a very close bond /learn and meld together , and others needed a more mature dog - a thinker/who had seen a bit more of humans & could give the new owner calm confidence . 
temperament was also vitally important when selecting dogs to be placed in nursing homes/with special needs kids etc . They needed to be pretty laid back and able to handle all sorts of weird human behaviours :( new owners also needed to be able to provide doggy stuff to let dogs relax and shake off the clouds of human angst that settled  over them. 

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moosmum   

I also think the study was too narrow with only 2 breeds. 

 

With my own dogs,  (livestock and personal protection)  We kept mostly females over a long period . The male was just as sensitive to emotion but handled it very differently.

A female was provided with a dark box in the lounge during a thunderstorm. Her phobia stemmed from a lightning strike at home while we were away. Two other females in contact with her during storms also developed  storm phobias. ( I keep storm phobic dogs away from others when distressed now)

Our boy did not. This day he lay at the entrance to the box offering comfort and would get up now and again to go outside and watch the storm before going back to comfort and guard.

We had a woman visiting who was terrified of dogs after an attack as a child. She was visibly cowering. I was about to put the boy away for her when he approached the woman with the most submissive and loose posture he had ever displayed and lifted her hand with his head. He was allowed to stay, the woman was not afraid of him though he was a huge boy. It was beautiful watching her smile, reach out to him and her tension just melt away.( shes since got a dog!)

This was not a submissive dog ever.

 

The same dog I watched sitting a burley near 7 ft man down after I'd told him to wait and he leaped up out of  his seat to follow me, and who kept a hatchet carrying intruder  from the yard.

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Edited by moosmum
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Rebanne   

My first greyhound, as she aged, developed a fear of storms. Her son could care less, her granddaughter has a mild fear that has developed as she ages and her great granddaughter has a mild fear from a young age. All raised the same and exposed to firework nights the same way. I would not say it is genetically inherited at all.

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moosmum   

I 'm pretty sure there is a genetic component as well. Other research I've read says storm phobias in particular  generally  occurr around 6 yrs.

I think it can be genetic or  environmental,   both or neither.

Not sure if gun shy would be the same but I do know I would avoid a dog if either parent had noise phobia, and especially a young dog showing signs.

 

Behaviour isn't some thing I would be willing to compromise for type.

You loose an ability for the dogs bred to respond to their  purpose.

Edited by moosmum
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I'd put my money on the proposition that it's complicated, but basically some dogs are born to be neurotic, some can be driven to neurosis by owners or environment, and some are so stable you couldn't tip them over if you tried.  The proportion of dogs in each category varies among breeds, as does the form of neurosis. 

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Hopefully this will lead to more research? Interesting about the gender differences.

 

As sandgrubber says. Some it will be a genetic or early development part of them, some will come on by environment, poor health, poor experiences. 

 

Today, Thistle has been super worked up from the moment she awoke. She has no trigger to be so, but I had an awful fright over a family members health last night/today and I expect even though I am focussing on continuing our weekend as I would - that she is picking up on it and acting out. Be it hormones, my behaviour, my facial expression. My usually rather chill little gal* has been an over aroused screaming demon. I expect as my tension and cortisol levels decrease/decompress over next few days - so shall hers.

 

Interestingly, neither of my dogs are bothered by thunder or fireworks. I am thankfully blessed that way. The new neighbours took up drumming last weekend and thankfully my two dogs after the initial "what the f*** is that mum?!" have decided it's no big deal. Can't say the same for the other neighbours over-viligant pom, poor old thing is quite upset.

 

*I know she's a scared rehab dog, but I promise she's not usually an anxious or overexcited individual without good reason.

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