Can Dogs Read Your Chemical Reactions?
Jake And Maggie and their facial expressions
Jake doesn’t change much except for a big yawn going on in the second photo. Maybe he was reading my mind :-).
We report a study examining interspecies emotion transfer via body odors (chemosignals). Do human body odors (chemosignals) produced under emotional conditions of happiness and fear provide information that is detectable by pet dogs (Labrador and Golden retrievers)? The odor samples were collected from the axilla of male donors not involved in the main experiment. The experimental setup involved the co-presence of the dog’s owner, a stranger and the odor dispenser in a space where the dogs could move freely. There were three odor conditions [fear, happiness, and control (no sweat)] to which the dogs were assigned randomly. The dependent variables were the relevant behaviors of the dogs (e.g., approaching, interacting and gazing) directed to the three targets (owner, stranger, sweat dispenser) aside from the dogs’ stress and heart rate indicators. The results indicated with high accuracy that the dogs manifested the predicted behaviors in the three conditions. There were fewer and shorter owner directed behaviors and more stranger directed behaviors when they were in the “happy odor condition” compared to the fear odor and control conditions. In the fear odor condition, they displayed more stressful behaviors. The heart rate data in the control and happy conditions were significantly lower than in the fear condition. Our findings suggest that interspecies emotional communication is facilitated by chemosignals.
The group started by having human participants watch either a clip that induced fear or happiness in the viewers. As they watched a clip, researchers collected a sample of their sweat.
The second part of the study is where the dogs became involved. In a room, the researchers placed a dog with 3 things in the room.
1. Their pup parent (not trying to interact with or sway the dog)
2. A stranger (not trying to interact with or sway the dog)
3. A sampling of the sweat collected from human participants
The sample of sweat was either (1) the “fear” sweat, (2) the “happy” sweat or (3) no sweat at all.
The dogs were hooked up to heart rate monitors. On top of that, the researchers were viewing to see where the dogs ventured, where they looked, etc.
The results were staggeringly clear.
When the dogs smelled the human “fear” sweat, their heart rates went up and they showed clear signs of fear and anxiety. The dogs would sometimes even try to hide or cower behind their humans.
When the dogs smelled the human “happy” sweat they had lower heart rates (than the “fear” test) and even showed more interaction with the strangers.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN?
This is why dogs are so skilled at being emotional support animals because they can often sense problems before their human counterparts can.
Additionally, from a dog training and behavior standpoint, this study emphasizes the importance of our own emotions when we interact and train our dogs. If we are constantly feeling anxious or overwhelmed when training, our dogs will pick up on that and mimic those feelings.
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