Stress in Drug Detection Dogs and Their Handlers

Open Access
Foose, Kristen Nichole
Area of Honors:
Animal Sciences
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Nancy Ann Dreschel, Thesis Supervisor
  • Troy Ott, Honors Advisor
  • dog
  • canine
  • drug
  • stress
  • cortisol
Working dogs, such as drug detection dogs, contribute in many ways to human health, happiness and safety. Research has shown that dogs look to humans for cues on how to behave; this is what allows us to train dogs for specific purposes like drug detection. Studies have shown that human behavior and human hormonal changes affect levels of stress hormones in dogs, especially working dogs. Certification testing is a stressor to disaster dog handlers. For this study, salivary cortisol and heart rate data were collected from 15 dogs in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Drug Interdiction Unit before and after the handlers’ yearly certification test, and on a control day with an identical procedure. Heart rate, blood pressure, and salivary cortisol were collected from their handlers and each filled out a State-Trait Anxiety Inventory on both days. Human saliva was sent to a local laboratory for analysis while Salimetrics- Cortisol Enzyme Immunoassay Kits were used to analyze the dogs’ saliva. SPSS statistical analysis software was used to find correlations between variables and compare means. The expected result was that heart rate, salivary cortisol, and/or the Anxiety Inventory would reveal that the yearly certification test was a stressor for canine handlers, and that heart rate and/or hormonal data in the dogs would reflect a similar trend. However, according to the Anxiety Inventory, handlers were not significantly more stressed on the test day. Human and dog cortisol were not found to be correlated. No correlation was found between handler blood pressure and stress indicators in the dogs, but a significant positive correlation was found between handler heart rate on test day and canine cortisol after the test. This may indicate that the dogs were able to sense and respond to handlers’ heart rates more effectively than to other behavioral or physiological markers.