You watch your dog romp off into a field, leaving you standing behind, and you have to wonder, “Does my dog love me like I love him? Does my dog know I love him? Do dogs feel love at all?”
Well, those are deep questions for an afternoon walk in the park.
But it’s common to wonder about doggy emotions. After all, our pets are some of our closest friends. And there are definite signs your dog loves you to watch for.
Do Dogs Feel Love?
Scientists today are all about studying dogs.
Most researchers in this field of study say they are intrigued with canine research as a way to learn more about people. Human and canine genomes are remarkably similar in many ways.
But we suspect many of these scientists, who are also dog lovers and dog owners, want to pursue canine research so they can learn more about their pets!
After all, dogs have shared our lives for more centuries than any other nonhuman animal.
This sharing began and has continued by way of mutual choice. A sure sign we enjoy both our shared bread and all that tasty butter smeared across the top of it!
But can dogs love? Do dogs love? And most importantly for each of us, “Does my dog love me?”
After all, until we learn to speak “dog,” we’ll never know what that enthusiastic howl we hear each evening really means. Is it our dog saying, “I love you!” Or just a reminder that she is really, really hungry?
Do Dogs Love Their Owners?
We love our pets so much. Surely some of that affection must be requited.
In fact, it is. While how dogs love us looks and sounds a bit different than how we love our dogs, the fact that this is a love connection is now scientifically validated.
If you have ever wondered, “Does my dog love me?” read on to find out what science tells us about how (not if) dogs love their people!
Do Dogs Love? The Scientific Answer
Does my dog love me? Does he love me not? The question, “Do dogs love their owners?” is one that has now been answered.
You don’t have to be a scientist to know this, of course, but having some data sure can be nice, too.
Consider this. In 2015, scientists conducted an fMRI study to find out how dogs’ brains respond to various common scents.
(The dogs were trained to accept the constriction and noise of the fMRI technology. We promise no canines were harmed in the gathering of this research!)
12 canine participants were exposed to 5 common scents while inside the fMRI chamber.
The scents included:
- familiar human (owner)
- strange human (stranger)
- familiar dog
- strange dog
- the dog’s own scent.
All five scents evoked a response in each research subject. But only the scent of each dog’s owner evoked a response in the part of the brain associated with anticipation towards something rewarding, desirable, and pleasurable.
Long story short, when your dog smells YOU, she feels a sense of anticipation and a very positive association. Scientists believe this is one of the signs that your dog loves you.
Similarities Between Dogs And Humans
There are also very close similarities between us and our canine companions, even down to the most basic levels.
For instance, dogs have many of the same hormones as humans. And those hormones follow basic pathways, changing and altering form when certain emotions are experienced.
Dogs have even been shown to have the hormone oxytocin, which is directly involved in love and affection.
That doesn’t mean that dogs will experience love in exactly the same way that we do. Or that they will react in the same way.
But it does give us insight into whether those emotions are ac
tually happening inside a dog. Researchers concur that dogs roughly have the same fundamental emotions as a human of two years of age.
And just like toddlers who are extremely attached to close family members, the love of a dog is likely to be chiefly expended on you!
Human Love And Dog Love
Of course, in any relationship there are “up” days and “down” days.
An up day might be a day when you cuddle in bed together, then go for a romp at the park, enjoy dinner and treats together and snuggle down to watch an evening flick.
A down day might include a veterinary exam, a sudden scary downpour during your walk, and finding a stinky “present” your dog left for you under the bed.
But through ups and downs, good and not-so-good days, you probably still feel that this furry creature somehow knows you better than any other life form on this planet.
That feeling is surprisingly common.
One 2008 study reported that a whopping 66 percent of people would rather be stranded on a desert island with their pet than with their human partner.
A full three-quarters of pet owners make some type of financial provision for their pets in their last will and testament.
According to researchers at the University of Cambridge, kids in pet-owning families reported a closer “best friend” and confidante bond with the family pet than with their human family members!
Signs Your Dog Loves You
Fascinating research, right? But in all of this, you might still be thinking, “Look, I know I love my dog. But does my dog love me?” And how can you earn the love of dogs?
Did you know that the dog genome (a dog’s complete set of DNA) is basically the human genome, chopped up and rearranged?
While it is true we share a rather significant amount of DNA with all living things, including fruit flies and bananas, we have such a high level of genetic synchronicity with only a handful of other beings on this planet.
For example, research has demonstrated that when you yawn and your dog sees you, your dog is more likely to yawn as well. Why is this relevant to canine expressions of love?
Reciprocal “contagious yawning” has been a reliable predictor of close social bonds among primates such as chimps.
But this is the first time it has been studied as a measure of empathy and closeness between people and dogs.
Researchers have also demonstrated that when you give your attention to another family pet or even a stuffed animatronic dog, your dog is likely to display jealousy.
Whether they snarl at the competitor, push between you and the competitor, snarl at the situation, or even at you, dogs can get very jealous!
Here again, jealousy isn’t exactly the same as love.
But scientists do believe a display of jealousy over a perceived rival for your attention does denote an “important social relationship” your dog wants to protect and keep all to herself!
Perhaps most pertinently, one reliable way to test canine-to-canine bonds (AKA love between two dogs) is to put out one bowl of food and see who shares with whom.
Studies show that hungry dogs will share their food with other hungry dogs if the other dog is already known to them.
But a hungry dog typically won’t share with a dog that is a stranger, even if the other dog is not threatening and is clearly hungry too.
In other words, dogs may very well love their people more than they love their own kind!
We may not fancy a shared dish of dog kibble, but there is another way to track acts of conscious, chosen empathy between dogs and their owners.
Consider how many dog owners say they might not be alive today if not for their cancer-sniffing canine sidekick!
From anecdotal stories to true scientific studies, we now know that dogs can sniff out cancer even before it reaches stage one (what scientists call “stage zero”).
But why do so many dogs make such a monumental effort to alert their owners. Often, they repeatedly paw at a certain area until their human other half “gets it” and makes a doctor’s appointment.
Empathy. Sharing limited resources.
Going out of their way to help.
Scientists call these types of actions “pro-social behavior,” and explain they are signposts for how to tell if your dog loves you.
When you see them, you know a dog’s love for you is for real.
Does My Dog Know I Love Him?
So perhaps now you are feeling more certain that the answer to the question, “Does my dog love me?” is YES.
Okay, awesome! Great. But wait a minute.
Does my dog know I love him? Is there a method for how to show your dog you love them?
After all, when you really love someone, regardless of species, you want to make sure you show it and that they know it is love!
Here again, since dogs and people can’t “talk,” per se, it is only natural to want some other form of proof that your dog knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love her.
The good news here is, there is another form of proof. And it is one you can trust.
It is called “social cognition” and dogs have more of it than even chimps, which are humans’ closest genetic cousins.
Social Cognition And Dog-Human Relationships
Social cognition is a fancy way of saying that a dog who lives with people becomes unusually adept at reading and successfully decoding our facial expressions and body language.
These skills start less than a month after a dog is born, which is typically well before they have really gotten to know any single human.
Even wolves who are raised from birth and fed by hand by humans do not have social cognition. And wild wolves don’t have it either.
Scientists conclude that dogs have abilities to communicate with people in ways that are unique to the canine-human bond.
So how do you know if your dog loves you? Well, because your dog can read you like a book, and not just the Cliff Notes version, either.
When you look at your dog and feel that love, that wordless sense that here is a being who knows you inside and out by choice, he feels it too. He knows what it is, what it means, and exactly how special it is.
How To Make Your Dog Love You
Even the most devoted dog lovers have had the experience of adopting a new dog and discovering that the love spigot doesn’t always just automatically turn on by itself!
Dogs, like people, can feel fear, distrust, anger, grief, depression, anxiety – the full spectrum of emotions.
Dogs can feel anxious when leaving their littermates for the first time or leaving the shelter that rescued them. They can have social anxiety. They can feel shy.
All dogs, and especially rescued abused dogs, can be slow to open up and trust and love a new human owner.
But with help and consistency, they usually can and will do so!
Emotion Across Species
While modern researchers like to separate emotions (and practically everything else) into categories such as “primary” emotions and “secondary” emotions, Charles Darwin himself took a simpler approach.
Darwin stated there is a “continuity” in the lives of all beings, whether the being in question is “higher” (human) or “lower” (nonhuman) in the evolutionary order. He wrote that all beings feel emotion, the difference being one of degree, not presence or absence.
Imagine, if you will, that another human being set out of to make you love them. Maybe this other person was a stranger to you. Maybe you actively disliked them. Or maybe you already felt fondly towards them.
Do you think that other person could “make” you love them?
How does one being make another being love them? This is a very tricky question, isn’t it?
In fact, researchers and scientists haven’t even been able to definitely agree on what defines an “emotion” as of yet. We just know they are real and may be more psychological than physical in nature.
Love Vs. Bribery
But perhaps this other person might set out to make you love them by offering you nice presents.
Maybe they would cook you dinner or buy you things. Maybe they would offer to clean your house or your car or drive you to the doctor. They might offer you words of praise and comforting hugs. They might tell you they love you and tell you how wonderful you are.
But still, there is no guarantee any of this would make you love them back, right? You love when you love. And you love whom you love.
There are many similarities between the genetic makeup, brain activity, social cognition and pro-social behavior of dogs and humans.
So it only stands to reason that people and things dogs love are beloved because the dog feels that love, not because of favors or gifts or bribery or attention or even treats. Although with many dogs, treats can definitely help!
Researchers encourage taking a look at how your dog behaves and interacts with you as an accurate measure for how to know if your dog loves you.
A dog’s love, like a person’s love, may not be able to be measured with any scientific instrument as of yet. However, it certainly can be seen, heard, felt, and understood.
Signs Your Dog Loves You — What To Watch For
So the next time you wonder, “Does my dog love me?” keep an eye out for these signs your dog loves you.
- After you’ve been gone for a little while, does your dog greet you like you’ve been gone for days, years, lifetimes? Love.
- After meal times, does your dog still want to be with you? Love.
- Does your dog seem equally happy with treats or praise during training? Love.
- Have you ever seen your dog yawn after she watches you yawn? Love.
- Is your dog keen to follow you to the bathroom, the bedroom, everywhere? Love.
It’s very likely that when you start watching your dog for signs of love, you will find these signs all the time, every day, and everywhere.
How To Show Your Dog You Love Them
How to show your dog you love them is a bit more complex.
There is soft and tender love that is easy, sweet, and affectionate.
And then there is “tough” love, the kind of love that requires visits to the vet, training and household rules, and the insistence on tolerating other pets.
Perhaps the best way to show your love to your dog is to follow the wise counsel of the Dalai Lama, who recommends: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
In other words, regardless of what type of love is needed in any given situation, whether it is a blood draw or a tasty treat, where there is kindness, there is always love.
And just like your pup can sniff out cancer in ways we humans will never understand, so too is it likely your canine life companion can smell and identify kindness a mile away!
Does My Dog Love Me? A Summary
We hope this article has offered you a helpful overview of some of the latest scientific research and thinking on this vital topic of, “Does my dog love me?”
There are some incredibly heartwarming stories out there of a dog’s love for their human.
How does your dog show you that he or she loves you? How do you show your dog you love them?
Please share your story in the comments here!
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- Winstead, E., “Mapping the Dog,” Genome News Network, 2001.
- Dodman, N., BVMS, Dipl. ACVB, “Animals Have Emotions, But What About ‘Theory of Mind?’,” Veterinary Practice News, 2013.
- Berns, G., et al, “Scent of the familiar: An fMRI study of canine brain responses to familiar and unfamiliar human and dog odors,” ScienceDirect/Behavioural Processes, 2015.
- Kiderra, I., “Dog Jealousy: Study Suggests Primordial Origins for the ‘Green-Eyed Monster’,” UC San Diego, 2014.
- Romero, T., et al, “Familiarity Bias and Physiological Responses in Contagious Yawning by Dogs Support Link to Empathy,” PLOS One, 2013.
- Segedin, K., “Dogs May Love Us, But They Are Mean to Strangers,” BBC – Earth, 2016.
- Zaphiris, D., et al, “Can Dogs Smell Cancer?,” InSitu Foundation, 2015.
Hare, B., et al, “The domestication of social cognition in dogs,” PubMed/Science, 2002.
- Fisher, T., “Brain Scans Reveal What Dogs Really Think of Us,” Mic Network, 2014.
- Bekoff, M., “Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures: Current interdisciplinary research provides compelling evidence that many animals experience such emotions as joy, fear, love, despair, and grief—we are not alone,” BioScience, 2000.
- Coren, S, Which Emotions Do Dogs Actually Experience? Psychology Today, 2013
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2019.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website