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Doggone It, Pooches Can Sniff Out Stress

By John Salak


Science and dog lovers know of the emotional and physical benefits of having a dog. Dog owners are less likely to have depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and heart problems. Heart attack patients, on average, even live longer if they have a dog, and pooch owners over 65 have 30 percent fewer doctor’s visits than those without a furry friend, reports HelpGuide, a wellness site.

It’s little wonder then that dog is man’s best friend. Face it. You can talk to a dog; it will listen and seem to care. Try that with a cat.

Science is now backing up pooch awareness through research at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. Dogs smell stress from human sweat and breath.

The university’s researchers teamed up with four Belfast-based dogs from Belfast—Treo, Fingal, Soot and Winnie—and 36 people to build their case. The study involved collecting breath and sweat samples from these participants before and after a stressful situation and then presenting them to these four dogs in the scent lineup to see if they could pick out anxiety-laden samples.

In every case, all four dogs correctly alerted the researchers to each person’s stress sample.

“The findings show that we, as humans, produce different smells through our sweat and breath when stressed, and dogs can tell this apart from our smell when relaxed—even if it is someone they do not know,” reported Clara Wilson, a Ph.D. student at Queen’s.

“The research highlights that dogs do not need visual or audio cues to pick up on human stress. It is the first study of its kind and provides evidence that dogs can smell stress from breath and sweat alone, which could be useful when training service dogs and therapy dogs,” Wilson added.

Treo’s owner was both delighted and reassured by the results.

“The study made us more aware of a dog’s ability to use their nose to “see” the world,” said Helen Parks, Treo’s owner. “We believe this study developed Treo’s ability to sense a change in emotion at home. The study reinforced that dogs are sensitive and intuitive animals. There is immense value in using what they do best–sniffing.”

The study also underscored the depth of the profound bond between dogs and people. “It also helps to shed light on the human-dog relationship and adds to our understanding of how dogs may interpret and interact with human psychological states,” Wilson noted.

 

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