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Do Dogs Love Their Owners? How to Know If Your Dog Loves You

We were talking about making our guests feel loved at a recent meeting, something we talk about often at Holiday…

We were talking about making our guests feel loved at a recent meeting, something we talk about often at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, when we were sobered by a comment that dogs are technically not supposed to feel love.

Have you ever heard that before? The presumption that dogs do not have the capacity to feel love has been taught for years in Animal Behavioral and Training schools. Experts believe that dogs may have many of the same feelings that we have, but love is not one of them.

Is this really true? Can’t dogs feel love?

I was floored, and upset by the comment in question. As a dog person, I see the dog as the actual embodiment of pure love.

I knew this was a subject I was going to have to look into it further. There had to be more than a few people like myself – even experts – that believe a dog’s feelings and emotions surpass what is commonly taught.

Do Dogs Feel Love? What Does the Research Say?

Some scientists seem to find it hard to accept that a dog has feelings. I don’t know why. But, those of us who have a relationship with a dog totally get it.

The most interesting thing I read about dogs and their emotions was in an article by Dr. Stanley Coren in Psychology Today.

Dr. Coren says that science once believed that humans and dogs were simply “machines” with mechanical and chemical processes. No, I’m not kidding. Basically, back in the 1500-1600s, the conclusion at that time was that a dog is nothing more than a machine that can be programmed to do things.

We have certainly evolved since that time as we know so much more about our furry friends and how their brains function. Mr. Coren brought us back to more current times by explaining that researchers have found that dogs have the equivalent mental capacity of a 2 – 2 ½ year old human, a fact we have discussed in previous blogs.

A child begins emotional development at birth and is able to experience a full range of emotions by age 5. They begin to feel love and affection at around 9 or 10 months. A dog will feel all the same things a child will feel up until the child reaches 2 – 2 ½ years, at which time the child begins to develop more complex emotions and a dog’s emotional development will end.

A dog will cycle through emotional development more quickly than a child, having achieved its full emotional capacity – including love and affection – by 4-6 months of age.

Oxytocin In The Dog’s Brain

Are you familiar with the oxytocin studies on dogs in 2015? In addition to many other functions in the body, oxytocin serves as a chemical messenger that affects human behavior, particularly observed in parental bonding and romantic love. Oxytocin is released when people hug, snuggle or feel a romantic attachment.

So when levels of oxytocin were tested in dogs and found to increase when interacting with their owners, it must have knocked the socks off the researchers that believe dogs can’t “love.” The study validates that physiologically, the same emotional attachment occurs between dogs and humans as it does between humans and their babies! I don’t think there is a stronger connection than that between a mother and her child. That’s a lot of love.

Dogs Love Their Owners’ Scents

More recently, neuroscientist Gregory Burns, studied the brain patterns of dogs inside of an MRI. (That must have been some impressive training to get a dog to be still inside an MRI Machine.)

Anyway, dogs in the study were presented with several types of stimuli, including their owner’s scent. When they recognized their human’s scent, brain activity increased within the part of the brain associated with positive emotions.

5 Ways To Tell If Your Dog Loves You

 Bearded man snuggling a white puppy, dogs love their owners

Carl Safina, an ecologist at Stony Brook University on Long Island and a “MacArthur genius” grant winner, has written 9 books about the human connection to the animal world. When asked, “Do you think your dogs love you?” His response was “That’s easy. Yes! And I don’t need to scan their brain activity to know this. They show it in their actions and the choices they make.”

Here are some concrete ways to know if your dog loves you just as much as you love them:

  1. Your dog is happy to see you. Is your furry friend overjoyed when you come home? Do they jump, bark, and wag their tail like crazy? Do they adorn you with lots of kisses? If it looks like your dog is happy to see you, it’s because he is.
  2. Your dog sleeps with you. Dogs are inherently pack animals, so they instinctively place their noses to the wind and their backs to their pack members for protection. If your dog is willing to snuggle with you in bed or on the couch means they feel safe with you and consider you to be family. Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?
  3. Your dog gives you gifts. Have you noticed that your dog gives you their toys or treats when they aren’t really in the mood to play? Often, dogs present gifts to their owners as a sign of affection. He loves his toys and he wants you to enjoy them, too. Who would have known that your dog’s love language is ‘gifts?’
  4. Your dog likes to look at you. Sometimes direct eye contact in dogs is interpreted as aggression. However, if your pup looks at you with pupils that are normal size and has otherwise relaxed body language, he’s staring at you because he loves you. 
  5. Your dog wants to be near you. Do you have a shadow at your home? A furry friend that is almost always underfoot? If your dog likes to cling, they’re doing it for more than security. They simply can’t get enough of you!

Your Dog Loves You. Period.

Woman kissing her happy and affectionate golden retriever on a hike

Clive Wynne, another specialist in dog behavior, says that dogs have “an abnormal willingness to form strong emotional bonds with almost anything that crosses their path.” In other words, dogs are love machines. 

It is said that we can’t interpret a dog’s behavior and actions to mean the same as human ones. Okay, I’ll buy that.

But we can get an idea of how they’re feeling by their body language, their expressions, their conduct. Dogs may not have a word for love, but they demonstrate to us a certain set of behaviors that really means the same thing.

That being said, the disconnect comes because we have language. We can put labels on those feelings but an animal cannot. If anything, their love – or whatever their “word” might be – exceeds the boundaries of our love in many ways. It truly is unconditional, undiscriminating, shameless and fervent.

The bond between dogs and humans is undoubtedly strong. How do we know they love us? They are fiercely loyal, they want to protect us, they’re joyful when we come home, they choose to be with us as much as they can. The bond with our pets is powerful and emotional. They love us. Period.

You may also be interested in checking out our post where we dive into do dogs get bored?

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