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Can Your Dog Tell if You Are Stressed Out?

Picture of a dog and its owners

People have deep relationships with their dogs. Because of this, it can often seem as though our dogs are in tune with our emotions. They seem to intuit when we are feeling sick or blue and naturally curl up by our sides to give us comfort. Likewise, when we return home in a joyous mood, our dogs are only too eager to party with us, often leaping up and down in the canine version of the happy dance. But what do these actions actually mean? If you’re feeling stressed out, can your dog sense it?

The Connection Between Dogs and Our Emotions

The truth is our dogs can and do sense changes in our mood and physical demeanor. Because canines and humans exist in very similar familial hierarchies, they possess strong instincts to protect and comfort those they love.

Though dogs cannot speak with us beyond the typical canine vocalizations, they have to rely on visual and olfactory cues to help determine what their owner is thinking and feeling. Dogs have become masters at interpreting body language and facial expressions. Even our choice of posture communicates volumes to our dogs. Just through the observation of the simple positioning of our hands or the set of our face, our dogs are easily able to pick up on signs of anxiety or stress. 

Why Do Dogs Respond to Our Moods?

Since the dog became a domesticated creature, it was a vital part of his survival strategy for him to learn to comprehend what his master desired and to fulfill it if possible. Dogs are extremely intelligent and came to understand quickly that a willingness to detect our emotions and provide support for them yielded their desired results: food, love, playtime, and affection.

The modern dog no longer has a job to fulfill unlike his ancestors. Though some dogs today are still working dogs, most dogs enjoy their role as a pampered family pet. Because our dogs spend their time in our yards and in our homes, they have vast amounts of time to devote to the studying of the people that make up their lives. This intense scrutinization allows a dog to become very familiar with our facial expressions, mannerisms, and body postures and what each of them means.

Researchers report that 90 percent of all human communication is non-verbal. Our dogs understand this concept well and have become masters at interpreting everything from the cock of our heads to the positioning of our fingers.

How Do Dogs Know When We are Stressed?

Because our dogs have spent an immense amount of time simply watching us, they know what our body posture resembles when we are relaxed. Conversely, they can also easily detect tension in our bodies, a telltale sign of stress.

But it is not just through observation that a dog can sense stress in their person. Since a dog’s sense of smell is up to one million times more powerful than our own, they are easily able to detect even the slightest change in smell in their favorite person.

It is a well-known fact that dogs can be trained to detect cancer and other forms of illness in people. Their noses are so sensitive that they are able to easily disseminate even the most complex scent patterns to identify the presence of disease.

One of the common indicators of stress or anxiety in humans is the propensity to sweat. Perspiration gives off a distinct smell that our dogs immediately pick up on and associate with anxiety, stress, or fear.

Sometimes when we are stressed, the inflection of our voice and rate of speech changes. This too does not go unnoticed by our dogs. Though our dogs may not understand the precise words we say, they do understand the emotions behind them. Dogs have become masters at interpreting tone, another tool which assists them in determining if their owner is currently succumbing to the symptoms of stress. 

How Does Our Stress Affect Our Dogs?

There is no question that our dogs are affected by our emotions. When we feel stressed or anxious, that sensation transfers to our dogs who observe our emotions like a sponge.

When we feel stressed or anxious, our dogs begin to look to cues in our environment that might be causing us to feel the way that we do. They begin to feel that there may be something in the home that is not safe, and thus, is causing “their rock” to experience feelings of anxiety.

Unfortunately, stress affects far more than the one person who is undergoing it. When we experience feelings of anxiety, our dogs feel unsafe and also begin to exhibit signs of stress. Among the behaviors dogs exhibit when feeling stressed or nervous are:

  • Pacing
  • Escape attempts
  • Shaking
  • Panting
  • Chewing things they shouldn’t
  • Accidents in the home
  • Licking or chewing of paws or limbs
  • Excessive barking
  • Whining

What Can Be Done if Our Dogs are Feeling Stressed

If we are experiencing stress and it is having an impact on our dogs, there are several things we can do to help alleviate the results of stress on our best canine pals. These include:

  • Making time for a daily walk
  • Providing puzzle toys for mental stimulation
  • Ensuring their ample chew toys to help relieve tension
  • Incorporating training sessions into our daily routine
  • Lavishing our dogs with lots of love and affection
  • Sticking to a routine for a sense of calm and familiarity

Can our dogs tell when we are stressed out?

Absolutely! Man’s best friend understands us all too well. By observing us carefully and learning our own unique body language, our dogs often know us better than we know ourselves.

If you’re feeling stressed out today, follow our top tips to help alleviate the effects of stress for you and your dog. You’ll both be glad you did!

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