We know that our dogs love us, but what does that really mean? Our dog’s reaction when we come home is obvious and, when we stare into their eyes, it’s impossible not to see love, but how does your dog experience love?
Does your dog truly reciprocate your feelings, or do you experience love differently than your dog? Despite the ubiquitous role that dogs have played in our lives, throughout human history, not much was done until recently to attempt to understand the human relationship with dogs. Ongoing studies now reveal more about the way we relate to our dogs.
Dogs See Us As Family
We know that we think of our dogs as our furry family members, but do they see us in the same way? A recent study found that dogs responded more powerfully to the smell of a known and loved human, rather than the smell of an unfamiliar human, unfamiliar dog, or a familiar dog.
In the study, dogs were trained to remain motionless in an MRI machine, while scents were presented and their brains were monitored. The study observed a part of the brain called the “caudate nucleus”, known to be associated with positive expectations. When dogs smelled a beloved human’s scent, this olfactory reward center lit up.
Another study found that when dogs and humans are presented with a set of voices, as well as non-vocal stimuli, dogs responded to emotionally laden human voices in a similar way that the human subjects did. This shows a sensitivity to human vocal emotion in dogs that is similar to the emotional response of humans. Happy sounds, in particular, stimulated the auditory cortex of both humans and dogs.
Attila Andics, neuroscientist and author of this study, told Mic magazine that behavior research shows dogs interacting with human caregivers in a way that is similar to how babies respond to parents. When dogs are worried or frightened, they run to their owners in the same way as toddlers run to their parents. This is different than most domesticated animals, like cats or horses, who run away when frightened.
Dogs Learn From Us
In a range of experiments, it was found that dogs learned socially from one another, but actually learn better from us. This may be because humans actually serve a more important role in dog social structure than other dogs.
Dogs can acquire contagious behavior, like yawning, from their human family and humans also can catch yawns from their dogs.
In one study, dogs were tested on their ability to retrieve a favorite toy or food from behind a V-shaped fence. All dogs were able to master the task, however, even after repeated trials, they were not able to improve their speed or performance. But, when either the dog’s owner or another person demonstrated the best way to get the prize, their performance improved dramatically.
Dogs Communicate With Us in Subtle Ways
Many people believe that their dogs feel guilty and express guilt, but the truth may be even more enlightening into how deeply connected our dogs are to us. Most scientists feel that dogs are unlikely to feel guilt. Rather, they feel that the depressed attitude our dogs express when they have done something wrong is an attempt to prevent us from punishing them harshly.
If your dog had an accident on the rug or ate your breakfast and you have punished them for these kinds of activities before, they are likely to expect a punishment is coming. By displaying submissive behavior, your dog is asking you not to punish her. And, interestingly, it works.
One study found that almost 60% of dog owners are less likely to scold or punish their dog when their dog behaves in a “guilty” manner. Therefore, while your dog may not be able to feel guilt, they are certainly capable of communicating to you that they would rather not be punished.
How does your dog know when you’re mad? Well, for one thing, they can tell by your facial expression. A recent study found that dogs respond more positively to pictures of happy human faces, compared to angry human faces.
Dogs learned more quickly when a reward was tied to a happy face than when it was tied to an angry face. This is indicative that dogs recognize angry human faces and prefer happy faces.
Dogs can even eavesdrop on our social interactions, according to this study. Dogs were capable of telling when a human to human interaction involved generous food sharing, as opposed to selfish food sharing.
Dogs were able to pick up on human vocal cues and they did not need to actually see food exchanged. This indicates that dogs are more aware of our social interactions between each other than we may have realized.
Our Dogs Snub Those Who Snub Us
It turns out that, for dogs, the enemy of their human is their enemy. A recent Japanese study found that dogs refused food from people who snubbed their owners. When the dogs in the study observed a person they didn’t know helping their owner, they later took food from the stranger.
However, when the dogs observed humans they didn’t know refusing to help their person, they refused to take food from them. Dogs were willing to take food from a neutral person who neither helped nor refused to help their owner. If you see loyalty to you and a rejection of your enemies as signs of love, then these are pretty good indications that your dog loves you.
Do Dogs Experience Love Like We Do?
It isn’t possible to determine exactly how dogs feel, but we do know that they have the same hormone, oxytocin, as we do. This hormone is responsible for the feelings of love and affection between human partners, parent and child, and, apparently, between human and dog. Researchers believe that dogs experience emotions in a way similar to a two-year-old child.
What Are Some Signs That My Dog Loves Me?
Just because you know that your dog can love you doesn’t mean that you know that they do love you.
Some of the ways that dogs express love, like wanting to be near a loved one, are the same as humans, but other expressions of love are unique to dogs. There are some ways that your dog shows you love that you may not even notice. Here are some clear signs that your dog feels the same way about you that you feel about them.
- They are excited to see you. There’s nothing like a greeting from a dog who loves you. Many dogs are excited to meet any new people, but the greeting from a dog who knows you is totally different. If your dog goes crazy when you walk in the door, it is a good sign that they care. Many dogs learn when their loved one is expected home and will wait by the door. Knowing that your dog cares about nothing more than the fact that you are about to walk in the door can reassure you how much they care about you.
- They stare at you. Dogs seem to exude love with their eyes. If your dog spends their time contentedly staring at you, it is a good sign that you are their favorite person. Getting your attention by barking or pawing at you shows that your dog wants to engage with you and looks to you as the person who will provide them with what they need in life.
- They ask for pets. Dogs have many ways of asking for affection from you. Your dog may roll over for belly rubs or lay their head on your lap, so you know they want you to scratch their ears. However your dog asks for affection, you can know that when they seek out love, they are also feeling love.
- They lie with their back to you. You may not realize that when your dog lies with their back to you, it is a sign of love, but, in fact, when your dog faces away from you, especially if they are touching you, they are telling you that it is you and them against the world. Your dog trusts you and wants to protect you, so they put their back to you and look out for you.
- They want to be close to you. If your dog obsessively follows you and is upset any time you leave, they may be suffering from separation anxiety, which is a very unpleasant state for them to be in. If, however, your dog does not seem to be very anxious when you are separated, but they choose to be close to you whenever it is convenient, you know that you are your dog’s favorite person to be around.
- They want to play with you. Dogs learn, bond, and develop trust through play. If your dog wants to play with you, they are telling you that they want to build a relationship with you. If your dog is driving you crazy by stealing your things and constantly trying to get you to play, give them more engagement. Love is a relationship which requires work on both sides. Scheduled play time will make it less likely that your dog will bother you in between play times.
- They always want to be touching you. Making physical contact with you releases oxytocin and gives your dog physical comfort. Contact with you soothes your dog’s anxiety because they love and trust you and feel safer when they are touching you. If your dog is always leaning on you when you’re standing and lying close to you whenever they can, you can feel confident that they love you.
Build the Bond
Are you worried that your dog doesn’t love you as much as you wish they did? Don’t panic, there are things that you can do to build your relationship.
Just like not all people get along, not every person and dog is a match made in heaven. Even if you and your dog are an odd couple, you can learn how to get along and build a bond together. Here are some simple things that you can do to develop love with your dog.
- Be consistent. Few things damage the human-dog bond more rapidly than inconsistency. Your dog needs to know what the rules are and what to expect from you. Providing play and food at the same time every day will keep your dog from pestering you for play or food. A consistent schedule and relationship with your dog will develop trust.
- Train. You may think that you need to develop a relationship with your dog before you can train them, but the opposite is true. Training develops communication and a relationship between you and your dog. It encourages them to trust you to help them make decisions about what to do next. Your dog will learn to love you more through the training process and you will be more likely to engage positively with your well-trained dog.
- Play. If you’re not having fun playing with your dog, do something different. Playing with your dog should be fun for both of you. It should be a give-and-take, in which you each benefit and learn from one another, as you problem-solve and explore together. Shake things up and try new games and toys in order to keep things interesting and teach your dog that you are the person to go to for a good time.
- Show affection. It may seem obvious that you should give your dog affection in order to get love from them, but you may not realize you need to actively seek out your dog to give them attention. If you only reward your dog with affection when they come looking for it, they’ll learn to be demanding and needy. Rather, make time every day to cuddle your dog, brush and groom them, and generally be affectionate.
- Be patient. A deep bond doesn’t develop overnight. If your dog has experienced abandonment, trauma, or neglect, it may take them even longer to bond with you. If you feel like your dog is detached and indifferent, keep trying. Sometimes it takes a while for your dog to open up enough to trust and love you. Keep offering your love and affection and maintain consistency and your dog will open up in time.
Dogs learn socially
Dogs learn by imitating people