A good friend can tell when you’re stressed. But “man’s best friend” can probably smell when you’re stressed, according to a new study.
Stress responses trigger physiological changes in our sweat and breathing, changes that our dogs can detect with a scent, according to the study published in the PLOS ONE Journal last week.
Researchers at Queen’s University in the United Kingdom collected breath and sweat samples from human participants before and after completing a “stress-inducing” task. They then had dogs trained to identify odors to distinguish between a “stress” sample and a “baseline” sample. The dogs correctly identified the stress sample on 675 of 720 trials, or about 94%.
Dogs have been deployed by humans as expert sniffers, effectively identifying everything from contraband to someone infected with the coronavirus. That’s because they’re able to smell volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, according to the study.
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“While the dogs in this study were trained to communicate that they were able to distinguish between (odors), the performances found in this task suggest that there are VOC changes induced by acute negative stress that are detectable by the dogs,” the study reads.
More research is needed to figure out how an untrained dog might communicate or interpret the scents of stress, the researchers said, but this study at least suggests that dogs can smell. odors associated with stress in humans.
According to the researchers, the revelation may help better understand the relationship between service dogs and owners who have anxiety or PTSD.