Your dog needs some face time with the pack: Study on canine health reveals playtime helps reduce long-term stress levels
11/15/2019 // Grace Olson // Views

Positive interactions with dogs help reduce stress levels, study finds. Using fur samples, researchers from Linkoping University from Sweden found that playing with dogs and rewarding them with treats/toys contributed to lower cortisol levels.

Dogs need stress management, too

Like humans, dogs and other animals also experience stress. When dogs are stressed, they are prone to destructive behavior and excessive defecation and urination. This causes problems inside a household, especially those with children.

Behavioral researchers who explore canine stress encounter a lot of difficulties. It is difficult to gather quantitative data from animals. Unlike humans, they can't take tests or answer questions.

The breakthrough came when studies revealed that dogs secrete cortisol when under stress – just like humans. Cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone,” is a biomarker for stress. Moreover, studies have found that cortisol levels are incorporated in growing hair.

By analyzing fur samples from dogs, researchers would be able to get quantitative data on the level of stress the dogs were feeling.

Equipped with this knowledge, the team of researchers from Sweden set out to study long-term stress levels in dogs.

Positive interactions result to lower stress levels

For the study, the researchers gathered hair samples from 59 German shepherds in January, May, and September. Meanwhile, the dog owners also answered a series of questionnaires. These provided important data on the dogs’ personalities, behaviors, and lifestyles.


The results showed that dogs who had more positive interactions with their owners had significantly lower levels of cortisol. Two of the most prominent positive interactions included “playing with a dog” and “rewarding with a treat/toy when dog behaved correctly.”

“[These] results could reflect that friendly and encouraging relationships are related to less stress in the dogs,” the researchers concluded.

Health benefits of dog ownership

Several studies affirm that having a dog (or a pet, in general) has many positive effects on a person’s overall health. Here are some of the ways that dogs contribute to better health:

  • They encourage an active lifestyle. Taking care of a dog is a lot of work. They like to go out and play, and they bring their owners along with them. A lot of dog owners frequently walk or jog along with their dogs. One study found that children with dogs were more physically active than those who did not have dogs.
  • They help rehabilitation from illnesses. Several hospitals and rehabilitation centers have employed dogs as part of the patients' healing process. They are officially called “therapy dogs.” These pets encourage patients to be more mobile and interact more with others. In one study, heart failure patients who interacted with dogs 12 minutes a day exhibited reduced heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety.
  • They can detect low blood sugar levels. One study found that some dogs who lived with diabetic owners identified drops in their owners’ blood sugar levels. In those situations, the pet owners reported changes in behavior among their dogs. In some cases, the dogs detected it even before the owners themselves and encouraged them to eat.
  • They help relieve stress. Interacting with animals releases a hormone called oxytocin. This is the love hormone, which is believed to increase trust and reduce fear. Oxytocin helps you relax and calm down. (Related: Dogs proven to engage in moral evaluation of people and animals by observing their behavior.)

Evidently, playing with a dog has positive effects on both pet and owner. The Linkoping study is one of many that highlights the positive effects of dog ownership on a person's health. Learn more about taking care of your pet at

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