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Dogs can smell when we are stressed

Words by Smiley Team

Dogs can smell when their owners are stressed, new research shows – as if we needed any more reasons to love our pups. 

These were the results of a study at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) on four dogs, Treo, Fingal, Soot and Winnie. The pups were given samples from 36 different people to sniff, to see whether they could differentiate between samples of people who were stressed and those who were not.

The samples collected were of sweat and of breath, before and after being given a tricky maths problem, and the participants were asked to self-report their stress levels at the time of collection. 

These clever pups were all able to successfully direct the researchers to each person’s stress sample, with an incredible combined success rate of 94% across all sessions of the study.

According to PhD student Clara Wilson, the research shows that, regardless of whether the dog knows us or not, they are able to detect our stress levels based on smells through our sweat and our breath. 

“The research highlights that dogs do not need visual or audio cues to pick up on human stress,” said Clara. “It also helps to shed more light on the human-dog relationship and adds to our understanding of how dogs may interpret and interact with human psychological states.”

The study has incredible implications for therapy and service dogs, who may be able to be trained to notice when their owners are stressed and intervene, based on this research.

Helen Parks, the owner of Treo, one of the dogs involved in the experiment, said that her dog “thrives on sniffing”. The two-year-old Cocker Spaniel thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the experiment and, according to Helen, seems to have taken his new skills to heart, becoming more intuitive in their home.

“The study reinforced for us that dogs are highly sensitive and intuitive animals and there is immense value in using what they do best – sniffing,” she said. “The study made us more aware of a dog’s ability to use their nose to ‘see’ the world.”

Inspired to act?

DONATE: Sponsor a dog through Service Dogs UK to help provide fully trained service dogs to veterans with PTSD.

GET INVOLVED: Volunteer with Support Dogs UK and help socialise puppies so that they can go on to be trained as support dogs.


This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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