by Kaitlyn Vorherr
No matter how hard we try to leave it at the door, we all carry stress home from our day. Did you know that your stress could be affecting your dog? A recent Swedish study has shown that high stress levels of owners can increase the stress levels in their dogs. The concept of “emotional contagion” is not a new one; our emotional state and wellness can be affected by people around us. Anyone that has been in a long-term relationship can attest to a commingling of emotions and “bad moods” spreading like a virus between partners.
The idea of interspecies emotional contagion, as proposed in the study, is more of a novel concept. The connection you have with your dog is powerful, so why wouldn’t they be affected by your stress? Your dog may be one factor in your life, along with work, family, or hobbies. In the case of your dog, you are their whole life – their workout partner, their cuddle buddy, their “pack.”
Like people, high cortisol levels in your dog from long-term stress can create health and psychological issues, so how do you de-stress with your dog and provide both parties a better quality of life? As simply as your stress negatively affecting your pet, positive and healthy interactions can help lower their cortisol levels, as well as yours. Here are some ways to de-stress your dog.
Do what your dog likes, not what you think they like
Some dogs like dog parks, others don’t. Some love hiking, others love puzzles. Pay attention to signs of stress or displeasure in your dog, and signs of happiness. You will quickly figure out what they enjoy and what they dislike. By focusing on activities you both like, you’ll bond better and be more relaxed.
Find a good book and read together
Many people use exercise as a stress reliever, but the study showed the dog’s activity level did not affect their cortisol levels. Finding a low impact, but high value activity, like curling up together with a good book, can provide a relaxing environment to help you and your dog de-stress. Even a Netflix binge can be helpful. Maybe avoid scary movies so you don’t accidentally spike your adrenaline.
Routine, routine, routine
Humans are pattern creating animals, and so are dogs. Breaking their standard routine will add stress to your dog, so stick with a strong schedule. Having a routine also helps many people de-stress, because there is less to forget when you’ve done it a hundred times.
Find those triggers
Everybody has triggers that set off their stress level; loud noises, long hours, telemarketers. Your dog has triggers, too! Maybe it’s the neighbor dog on your walk, maybe it’s new visitors, it could even be car rides. Keep an eye out for triggers that increase their stress and find ways to eliminate them. Take a new walking path, hold your game night at a friend’s house, skip the road trips until you both are in a less stressed place in life. You can’t always eliminate all their triggers, but keep their stress down by doing what you can.
A healthy dog is a happier dog
Watch those extra treats and extra pounds. A healthy dog can handle high cortisol levels much better than one who may be obese or dealing with other health concerns. A combination of high cortisol, abnormal weight, and underlying medical issues can lead to long-term or immediate problems in your dog. Don’t forget, you can’t outrun your mouth, and neither can they; staying healthy starts with a healthy diet.
A hard day is rough, a hard month is a concern
Acute stress or cortisol spikes in your dog when they sense your rough day can be unpleasant, but not a danger. If you had a bad day, hang out with your dog and relax without worry. If you’re consistently stressed, you may be passing that stress along to them, and will need to increase your de-stress activities together.
We all want the best for our families and pets. Working as a team to decrease stress is yet another way to strengthen the human animal bond!
Dr. Kaitlyn Vorherr, DVM, is a veterinarian at the Arizona Animal Welfare League’s low-cost clinic, MD PetCare, in Phoenix. AAWL is the state’s oldest and largest no-kill animal shelter. For more info, visit aawl.org.