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Does my dog love me?

The essentials

  • It’s normal to wonder — You aren’t the first (or last) pet parent to ask if their dog loves them!
  • Science proves it — Beyond the anecdotal evidence (kisses, snuggles, puppy eyes), scientists have found data that suggests our pets do love us back. 
  • Bonding matters — Ensuring that you regularly strengthen your bond with your pet helps to forge a long-lasting, healthy relationship with your furry friend.

Pets show their love and affection in many ways. From body language (like tail wagging) to their desire to spend time with you, to lots of kisses, jumps, and cuddles, there are plenty of signs of love to watch for in your pet. 

So, does my dog love me? Yes. Here are a few more signs to watch for, and what you need to know about dog and puppy love.

9 signs of love from your dog

Have you ever heard of love languages for humans? Words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch can actually be applied to a dog’s love language as well. No matter the breed of dog you have, it’s important to remember that all dogs show and receive love differently, with some similar themes throughout. 

Here are a few more signs of love to watch for in your furry friend: 

1. They’re excited to see you

You’ll know that it’s love when your pet welcomes you home from a brief or long absence with a full body wiggle, a wagging tail, and happy sounds. Other signs of excitement from your dog can show as panting and chattering their teeth. If your dog gets over excited regularly, try behavioral training to curb any jumping or biting.

2. They lick you

Dogs lick for a number of reasons — with one being that they love you. They learn this from their moms, as mother dogs lick their puppies to offer comfort and groom them. It’s a universal sign of affection that they may use with other breed members and pet parents, too! 

3. They offer their toys to you

Toys are important possessions to dogs, but they might present their toys to you as a present to show their love and respect for you. This also represents a high level of trust especially since dogs are territorial animals and this “gifting” is a form of submission to show you their respect.

4. They follow you around the house

This close contact usually means they love your company and actually want to spend more time with you. Plus, they see you as their primary caregiver and as such, being attached to you gets them closer to what you have access to in the form of food and toys. 

If you have a herding breed, this following behavior may be more common as they’re bred to work side-by-side with humans. It is important, however, to know the difference between a dog that enjoys your company and one with separation anxiety

5. They look at you lovingly

Have you ever caught your dog watching you with big eyes and soft features? They could be admiring you . You could make this more of a bonding experience by speaking to them kindly and engaging with them if you notice that you’re being watched. 

6. They put you second only to food 

Dogs are biologically programmed to seek out food and are often territorial over it. If your pup doesn’t get aggressive when you’re near their food or turns their attention right back to you after eating, that’s a pretty solid sign of love.

7. They lean on you

The famous dog lean is your dog trying to get as close to you as possible. Since they can’t initiate a hug by themselves, many pet parents think of this as a sign that they’re asking for extra love.

8. They give you “puppy eyes”

Eye contact is a method of communication for many dogs. When they maintain contact without their pupils becoming larger, it usually represents affection. It can actually trigger an oxytocin release in both dogs and humans, too!

9. They check on you

Friends regularly check in on one another to see how things are and to maintain their close relationships. Pups are the same way! Dogs that pop into the bathroom when you’re getting ready or into the kitchen when you’re making dinner want to be close to you.

The science behind why dogs love us

Scientists around the world have focused their research on better understanding our canine companions, including what they feel and why. While current scientific theory confirms that our dogs can love us, we’re continuously learning more about how exactly they show it.

Familiar smells

Humans regularly have positive emotional responses to certain smells: a candle that smells like their grandma’s cookies, a perfume that reminds them of a friend. Dogs have similar emotional responses when exposed to a familiar human or pet scent, and we know that scent is one of the most important senses for a dog. 

It’s so important, in fact, a team of Emory University researchers conducted a study on this very topic!

They experimented by exposing dogs to different scents — like those of their owner, strangers, and unfamiliar dogs. Using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), the researchers studied the different neuron responses in the dog’s brain when they were exposed to each stimulus. 

When presented with the familiar scent of their owner, the “reward center” (also known as the caudate nucleus) inside the dog’s brain activated; showing that they were exposed to something pleasurable. (Even your scent brings comfort to your pet!)

Eye contact

Have you ever noticed your dog staring at you? One scientific study shows that the emotional bonds that humans have when gazing into each other’s eyes can also translate to dogs. 

Another study on the relationship between dogs and humans has shown that the facial anatomy of dogs has changed throughout the evolution of the species to be more communicative with humans. But how exactly? 

Well, expressive eyebrows and other common facial expressions are a very human trait, and believe it or not, the raising of your dog’s eyebrow when listening to you speak is no coincidence. 

Unlike wolves, modern canines regularly engage in eye contact with their human owners and this relationship creates an oxytocin positive loop. As we mentioned above, when we look into our dog’s eyes and they look into ours, both of our brains receive an oxytocin boost (aka the love hormone). This can enhance the bond between you and your pet, leaving you both feeling loved.  

How to show love to your dog

We’re positive that you already show your pup the love and affection they deserve, but here are some easy ways to share the feeling with them even more. 

  • Snuggle them – While some dogs don’t like to be held too close, it’s a wonderful gesture for your pet that is excited by the contact.
  • Rub/pet them – Science has proven that petting dogs releases the chemical oxytocin in their brain, and ours too!
  • Play on their terms – Turning your full attention to your pet while playing (and with what toys they choose) is a great bond strengthener. Find out what toys and games they enjoy, and make time for intentional play.  

Forging strong emotional bonds between humans and dogs can be a profound and rewarding experience for everyone involved. While we don’t necessarily need science alone to tell us that our pets might care for us, current studies have shown dogs benefit emotionally and mentally from human relationships just as humans do with them.

Frequently asked questions

How can I tell if my pooch loves me?

Dogs show their love for humans in a variety of ways. Some include licking, eye contact, leaning, and excitement — but this can look different with every dog. 

Can my dog feel that I love them?

They absolutely can. As dog owners ourselves, we can understand the uncertainty of whether or not a tail wag or a kiss is actually love — however, recent findings do confirm that we can bond with them like a parent would bond with a baby. The oxytocin expressed during bonding time uses the same pathway that we use with our children; so it’s no wonder that we feel so close! 

How do you know if your dog is bonded to you?

There’s no universal method to determine if your dog is bonded to you. However, your dog’s body language and behavior are good places to start. Do they enjoy spending time with you? Do they wag their tail with excitement when they see you? Maybe your dog offers you their toy or they don’t want to leave your side because they enjoy your company. 

More often than not, your dog’s behavior towards you will tell you what you need to know about their feelings. 

Can your dog truly love you?

Yes! Love from a man’s best friend is possible and extremely rewarding and they are capable of the feeling. In fact, their ability to bond in social situations is what sets them apart from many other animals. 

How do scientists talk to dogs?

While scientists haven’t figured out how to translate dog communication into human language, they have plenty of ways of understanding how dogs feel; and the relationships and bonds they’re able to forge through behavioral studies and other experiments.

How can I learn more about how my dog’s mind works?

There’s plenty of research out there about the way dogs think and feel. You can learn more from one of the researchers from Emory University — such as Gregory Berns — as well as from Jim McGetrick, who focuses on cognition and behavior in non-human animals like dogs!