Have you ever wondered if your dog can pick up on your emotions? A recent study out of the UNO Department of Psychology suggests that the bond between humans and dogs is reflected in our hormones.
The study, entitled “Evidence for a synchronization of hormonal states between humans and dogs during competition,” was recently published in the journal of Physiology and Behavior.
Current UNO graduate Alicia Phillips Buttner and recent graduate Breanna Thompson teamed up with professors Rosemary Strasser and Jonathan Santo for the research.
The research was funded in large part due to a FUSE grant from the Office of Research and Creative Activity at UNO.
It is one of the first studies to provide evidence for a synchronization of hormonal changes between species. People are taking notice, too. Fox News, Discovery News, and Wall Street Journal have posted articles about results of the study.
The researchers followed 58 handlers and 58 dogs through a series of dog agility competitions. The competitions were meant to be stressful, and were to be completed as quickly as possible without error. The handlers used cues to guide their dog through the course, and each handler assessed their dog’s personality and rated their performance.
The handlers included 44 woman and 14 men, and they had an average age of 52 years old. Saliva samples were collected from handlers and dogs before and after the trial. The samples were analyzed for cortisol in dogs and testosterone in handlers.
Men and their dogs recorded cortisol levels that were significantly higher post-competition compared with before the event. On the contrary, cortisol levels only slightly increased in women and did not change in dogs. The sex of the dog did not seem to matter.
The researchers say that the dogs may have picked up odors or behavioral cues from handlers, which transmit physiological states between humans and dogs. They were able to conclude that the levels cortisol in the dogs’ saliva mirrored the levels of their handlers.
"It is also possible that they are picking up on subtle behavioral cues that you are not even aware you are emitting," Buttner said.
While Strasser has done much research in the area of animal behavior, the future is bright for the next generation of scholars to contribute to the discussion of human-animal relationships.