Dogs can sniff out stress

3 minute read

Those canine noses are even smarter than we realised.

Regular readers of The Back Page will be well aware that the scribblers here love their pets.

Cats, dogs, guinea pigs, stick insects … you name it, we adore our fellow travellers aboard this pale blue dot.

And why wouldn’t we, especially when we learn that our canine companions have superpowers mightier than we had ever imagined.

Such as? Well, not only do dogs have an uncanny ability to predict when their owners are about to accidentally drop food on the ground, they are also able to “smell” when we naked apes are feeling a trifle fraught.

study by researchers at Belfast’s Queen’s University, published this week in PLOS ONE, has found that a pooch can smell the changes that occur in a person’s breath and sweat when they’re stressed, with an impressive accuracy rate of 93.75%.

The boffins used samples of breath and sweat from folks undertaking a fast-paced maths problem who self-reported feeling stress, then presented those samples to four dogs of differing breeds. The dogs were required to pick out the “stressed” samples from a range of other samples from the same people collected in a calmer moment.

Out of 720 trials, the dogs correctly picked the stressed samples 675 times!

The researchers believe the dogs are able to detect an odour associated with the change in volatile organic compounds produced by humans in response to stress.

“This finding tells us that an acute, negative, psychological stress response alters the odour profile of our breath/sweat, and that dogs are able to detect this change in odour,” the study authors said in a media release.

Which is good to find out, but do these findings have a practical application? The researchers certainly think so.

“The research highlights that dogs do not need visual or audio cues to pick up on human stress … which could be useful when training service dogs and therapy dogs,” study author and PhD student Clara Wilson told media.

The training of anxiety and PTSD service dogs currently focuses on visual and audio signals, so these findings may add a new tool to the therapy kitbag.

“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,” Ms Wilson said.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that your cat can smell if you’re under stress as well, but doesn’t give a damn.

If you smell something that’s not quite right, waft it on over to

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