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Your dog may know when you're stressed out by smelling your breath

A dog's sense of smell has helped to find missing people, detect drugs at airports and find the tiniest morsel of food dropped from a toddler's highchair. A new study shows that dogs may also be able to sniff out when you're stressed out.

Viv's black lab, Ruby Mae, when she was a puppy
Your dog may know when you're feeling stressed by smelling your breath
Viv Williams
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ROCHESTER — Does your dog know when you're stressed out? A new study shows that dogs can tell when humans are going through psychological stress by smelling changes in their breath and sweat. And apparently, dogs are really good at doing this because the research shows they sniff out stress with an accuracy of 93.75%.

“The findings show that we, as humans, produce different smells through our sweat and breath when we are stressed and dogs can tell this apart from our smell when relaxed – even if it is someone they do not know," says Clara Wilson, a Ph.D. student in the School of Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, UK.

Wilson and colleagues say that the body emits odors that contain chemical signals used for communication between members of the same species. Since dogs have such a keen sense of smell and have been used as psychological support for people with conditions such as anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the researchers wondered if dogs might also be trained to respond to the chemical changes in humans.

They found that, yes, the dogs in their study can detect the odor produced by humans in response to stress.

And they say their findings could have applications to the training of anxiety and PTSD service dogs that are currently trained to respond predominantly to visual cues.


The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.


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Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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