By Sola Ogundipe

Dogs can smell stress from human sweat and breath, a new study by Queen’s University Belfast researchers has found.

Researchers collected samples of sweat and breath from participants before and after they did a difficult maths problem. They self-reported their stress levels before and after the task and researchers only used samples where the person’s blood pressure and heart rate had increased.

The dogs were taught how to search a scent line-up and alert researchers to the correct sample. The stress and relaxed samples were then introduced when the researchers didn’t know there was an odour difference that dogs could detect.

In every test session, each dog was given one person’s relaxed and stressed samples, taken only four minutes apart. All of the dogs were able to correctly alert the researchers to each person’s stress sample.

“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,” said Clara Wilson, a student in the School of Psychology at Queen’s, explains:

“The research highlights that dogs do not need visual or audio cues to pick up on human stress. This is the first study of its kind and it provides evidence that dogs can smell stress from breath and sweating alone, which could be useful when training service dogs and therapy dogs.

“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.”

The research findings have been published in PLOS ONE. The study was carried out by Clara Wilson (PhD researcher) and Kerry Campbell (MSc student) in the School of Psychology. They were supervised by Catherine Reeve, with support for collecting human physiological measures from Zachary Petzel.


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