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Dogs Can Sniff Out Stress From Owner’s Breath and Sweat

After 720 trials, dogs were able to detect stress-induced breath and odour samples from humans with an average accuracy of 93,75%.

Puppy sniffing - Sniffing mat

We know from previous studies that dogs can detect when humans are experiencing stress. If you are a dog owner, you might have already sensed that when you are stressed, your dog reacts slightly differently.

In a recent study, researchers Clara Wilson, Kerry Campbell, Zachary Petzel, and Catherine Reeve, tested whether stress odours were distinguishable to dogs. By combining both breath and odour samples from 36 participants after being exposed to a stress-inducing (mental arithmetic) task; dogs were presented with a participant’s stress sample (taken immediately post-task) alongside two blanks (the sample materials without breath or sweat) and were required to identify the stress sample with an alert behaviour. In a second phase, the dogs were presented with the stress sample, the same participant’s baseline sample (taken pre-task), and a blank. If the dog performed an alert behaviour on the stress sample, it suggests that baseline and stress odours are distinguishable.

Overall the performance ranged from 90.00% to 96.88% accuracy with a combined accuracy of 93.75% after 720 trials.

As the authors conclude “The results of this study contribute to our understanding of human-dog relationships and add insight into how dogs may be interpreting their environment and interactions with humans as informed by their olfactory capabilities”. Understanding better human-dog relationships could have applications to Emotional Support and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) service dogs as well as homeowners. Perhaps getting a dog is a good way to release stress after all, especially if they can detect it.

The question that remains to be answered is whether dogs themselves also get stressed when they detect owner stress. For all of us dog owners, I think we may know what the answer is.

See the paper here or download the PDF →

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