Even though dogs can’t speak our language, they can definitely feel our vibrations. Has your dog ever given you a tender nuzzle during a time of grief or heartache, for example?
Since we’re both mammals, our emotional brains (dog and human) can tune into one another and read subtle cues about stress levels, moods, and general “vibes.” We feed off of each other psychologically—and a new study confirms it.
Scientists in Austria recently announced findings that show how pet and human relationships go beyond emotional connection. It’s pretty fascinating stuff!
Dogs and humans influence each other
A dog-human pair can actually begin to share personality traits over time. What the scientists discovered is that pets and humans can influence one another’s characteristics and their “way of being” until there’s almost a melding of two spirits.
German photographer Ines Opifanti explored this idea in her photo project Dog People, where dog owners mirrored the expressions of their pets in staged portrait shoots. This required some effort on the part of dog owners, but the idea speaks to something pet-lovers have long suspected—we become linked to our pets by more than just a shared address.
The Austrian scientists studied more than 100 dogs and owners.
Their study centered around our basic flight-or-fight responses—how our bodies react when we feel threatened. Do we become highly anxious, even if the threat is small? Or do we assess the threat and relax when we see that we’re not in danger? The scientists measured heart rate and cortisol (stress hormone) levels in dogs and owners to compare.
They also assessed both species in terms of their disposition. Were they:
- Neurotic or more laid-back?
- Outgoing or shy?
- Easy-going in new situations or resistant to change?
- Immediately trusting or more suspicious?
The scientists found that both dogs and humans adjust their coping strategies in relation to how their companion responds to stress.
However, humans have more influence over dogs than dogs do over humans.
In other words, a more reactive, aggressive person (someone who views the world as threatening) will inspire her dog to react similarly. Someone battling depression might lower his dog’s energy level and mood, or the dog will react to stress by shutting down rather than ramping up.
On the other hand, an exuberant social butterfly will rub off on her pet and keep him more perky and outgoing.
Dogs and humans share a long history
The researchers pointed out that dogs and humans have been living as companions for more than 30,000 years! We’ve evolved together in many ways.
In fact, the two species now easily form a dyad—or bonded pair. That means we share interactions, activities, and play, but also subtle emotional communications over the course of our time together.
The conclusion? Well, your therapy sessions, meditation retreats, and recreational activities could have positive effects on you and your dog. Consider it motivation to keep up the self-care, and to enjoy your dog’s positive energy while you’re at it.