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Dogs can smell stress in people

In a pilot study, researchers have investigated the dog's ability to smell stress in the breath of individuals with PTSD - post-traumatic stress disorder - when they are exposed to a traumatic memory. The dogs were trained to smell something called presumed stress-related volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are substances that are emitted and evaporate into the air when we are exposed to stress. This is the first study to demonstrate that some dogs can smell stress markers in the breath of individuals experiencing stress related to trauma.

Dogs can smell stress

Dogs can smell stress in humans and can be trained more effectively

The study was conducted to see if service dogs can be trained more effectively to assist individuals with PTSD, especially soldiers. In the USA, it has become more and more common for soldiers with PTSD to receive service dogs as part of their treatment and as crucial support in their daily lives. The dogs serve as emotional support but also help reduce anxiety. By being able to smell stress in humans, dogs can be trained to detect when a person is experiencing stress and can then intervene more easily and quickly.

Important development for dog-assisted services

This can be a valuable tool for those of us working in animal-assisted services. We can create tailored interventions where the goal is to mitigate or better define when a person reacts with stress in specific situations. Dogs are becoming more common in treatment or as support in daily life for individuals with various mental disorders. When dogs detect signs of stress, they can respond with learned behaviors that calm, comfort, or distract the person in the situation. This can be incredibly effective in a treatment setting, but also for, for example, exposure to challenging situations in everyday life or as motivation to more easily participate in various activities. Work with therapy dogs is continually progressing, and the development of more effective services and more targeted training of dogs is incredibly exciting.

Dog as emotional support

Research on the effectiveness and potential new implementations of dogs - not only within mental health but in several areas where dogs can have a significant positive impact on individuals in challenging situations - is continually evolving. This means that the demand for dog-assisted services is increasing, and the quality of these services is becoming increasingly effective.


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