Long-Term Stress Levels Are Synchronized in Dogs and Their Owners

Ann-Sofie Sundman, Enya Van Poucke, Ann-Charlotte Svensson Holm, Åshild Faresjö, Elvar Theodorsson, Per Jensen & Lina S. V. Roth 2019

ABSTRACT

This study reveals, for the first time, an interspecific synchronization in long-term stress levels. Previously, acute stress, has been shown to be highly contagious both among humans and between individuals of other species. Here, long-term stress synchronization in dogs and their owners was investigated. We studied 58 dog-human dyads and analyzed their hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) at two separate occasions, reflecting levels during previous summer and winter months. The personality traits of both dogs and their owners were determined through owner-completed Dog Personality Questionnaire (DPQ) and human Big Five Inventory (BFI) surveys. In addition, the dogs’ activity levels were continuously monitored with a remote cloud-based activity collar for one week. Shetland sheepdogs (N = 33) and border collies (N = 25), balanced for sex, participated, and both pet dogs and actively competing dogs (agility and obedience) were included to represent different lifestyles. The results showed significant interspecies correlations in long-term stress where human HCC from both summer and winter samplings correlated strongly with dog HCC (summer: N = 57, x2 = 23.697, P < 0.001, B = 0.235; winter: N = 55, x2 = 13.796, P < 0.001, B = 0.027). Interestingly, the dogs’ activity levels did not affect HCC, nor did the amount of training sessions per week, showing that the HCC levels were not related to general physical activity. Additionally, there was a seasonal effect in HCC. However, although dogs’ personalities had little effects on their HCC, the human personality traits neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness significantly affected dog HCC. Hence, we suggest that dogs, to a great extent, mirror the stress level of their owners.

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