Dogs Mirror The Stress From Their Humans, Study Finds : Shots - Health News When people who own dogs are stressed, their dogs also get stressed, a new study suggests. It's another indication of how emotionally synchronized dogs and their humans can be.
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You May Be Stressing Out Your Dog

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You May Be Stressing Out Your Dog

You May Be Stressing Out Your Dog

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you're a dog lover, you already know dogs and humans have a special connection. Now new research suggests that when owners are anxious or neurotic, their dogs get more stressed. NPR's Rebecca Hersher reports that is not necessarily a bad thing.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Not all stress is bad stress - take, for example, dogs that compete.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Our last dog up in the 24-inch class is Kaboom, a border collie handled by Amber McCune of Bedford, N.H.

HERSHER: The 2018 agility competition at the Westminster Dog Show. McCune has to help Kaboom the dog race through obstacles. And even on TV, it's clear that they're totally in sync emotionally.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Kaboom is just waiting - look at this - just will not leave Amber's side.

HERSHER: McCune gestures and coaxes, Kaboom weaves and leaps. They're both focused.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Here she comes - back-to-back champion.

HERSHER: It's over. Focus turns to excitement for animal and human. McCune smiles. Kaboom jumps into her arms.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That's a happy dog and a happy handler, yes.

HERSHER: Rosemary Strasser is a behavioral neuroendocrinologist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She studies dog-human relationships. She also personally competes with her dog in agility competitions.

ROSEMARY STRASSER: It just feels like both you and your dog are reading each other's body cues so well that you don't need to use verbal type of commands.

HERSHER: She wondered about that feeling of being emotionally in sync. What was going on biologically? In a study published a few years ago, Strasser found that the stress hormone cortisol might have something to do with it. When dogs and humans were competing or working together, she found that their cortisol levels were in sync, rising together, for example, when they were competing.

A new study published today in the journal Nature's Scientific Reports builds on that work. Researchers in Sweden found that even regular pet dogs appeared to have higher levels of cortisol over time if their owners act in ways that are anxious or neurotic. Biologist Lina Roth is one of the study's authors.

LINA ROTH: If the owner is stressed, then the dog is also likely to mirror that stress.

HERSHER: And the dog will mirror that stress over months, they found, not just right before and acutely stressful event like a competition. For those who might be anxious by nature and who have a dog they love, Roth says this study should not make you worry.

ROTH: I don't think you should be anxious that if you're stressed, you might harm your dog. But instead, your dog is a social supporter for you. And you are a social supporter for the dog.

HERSHER: Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

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