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Stress-Sniffing Dogs Detect Human Distress with 94% Accuracy

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Stress-sniffing dogs have proven their remarkable ability to detect human distress, according to a recent study. Researchers successfully trained dogs to identify stress-related odours present in breath and sweat samples. The study aimed to determine if dogs could differentiate between the smell of stress and the usual odour of individuals. The findings, published in PLOS ONE, revealed that dogs achieved an impressive accuracy of 93.75% in detecting samples from individuals experiencing psychological stress.

To conduct the study, researchers recruited a group of pet dogs from the Belfast area. Twenty dogs were initially considered, and after a careful selection process, four dogs completed the training. These dogs included a male cocker spaniel, a female cockapoo, and two mixed breeds of both genders, ranging in age from 11 to 36 months. The training involved operant conditioning and positive reinforcement techniques, lasting approximately 10 months with weekly sessions of one hour each.

In the testing phase, the dogs were presented with various ports containing breath and sweat samples. Initially, they were trained to identify the port with food as a reward. As they progressed, the ports contained different human samples, including stress-related ones, and blank samples. The dogs consistently selected the port with the stress-related sample in 93.75% of the trials. Notably, individual dogs achieved detection rates ranging from 90% to 96.88%.

The study’s findings provide compelling evidence of dogs’ ability to perceive and discriminate stress-related odours emitted by humans. Clara Wilson, the lead author of the study, highlighted the dogs’ impressive skills in distinguishing these odours solely based on the occurrence of psychological stress. This research contributes to our understanding of the canine olfactory system and its potential applications in various fields. Alan Beck, a director at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, emphasized the historical evidence of dogs’ exceptional olfactory capabilities, supporting the study’s outcomes. The study opens new avenues for exploring the potential roles of stress-sniffing dogs in practical applications such as stress detection and support.

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