- Dogs aren’t pack animals — While their wolf ancestors had a pack mentality, studies today indicate that domestic dogs are social animals and can be competitive for resources rather than working as a pack.
- The relationship between dog and man dates back to the Ice Age — Studies indicate that during the last Ice Age, humans began domesticating wolves, meaning we’ve had a relationship with dogs far longer than previously thought.
- Loyalty can be earned — Most dogs are loyal companions by default, but trauma and personality can make it harder for pups to be loyal. Fortunately, you can earn their love and loyalty.
Why are dogs so loyal? It’s a question many dog owners ask, and the answer is somewhat complicated. The simplest explanation is that thousands of years ago, we provided wolves with food and shelter. In return, these pack animals protected us and served as the first guard dogs. This laid the foundation for the truly a symbiotic relationship we have with dogs today.
The evolution of dogs and their loyalty
Unlike cats, the domestication of dogs wasn’t a happy accident. The canine-human bond started early and deliberately. Historians believe that dogs were the first domesticated animals, a process which began at least 30,000 years ago.
Domestication and dogs
As human settlements discarded unwanted food items, wolves began to scavenge and help ancient humans hunt. The Gravettian Předmostí dig site in the Czech Republic indicates that humans may have had a relationship with dogs during our last Ice Age — which is significantly longer than historians and archeologists previously thought (around 14,000 years).
Scientific reason behind dogs’ loyalty
The reason dogs are loyal goes beyond just food; loyalty comes from how dogs have adapted to live with humans. We feed pups, so they are loyal to us. But there are chemicals at play here as well.
The role of oxytocin
Studies indicate that when we spend time with our dogs positively, both dogs and people have a surge of oxytocin. The fact is that dogs love attention from us just as much as people benefit from having canine family members.
Dog breeds and loyalty
The most loyal dog breeds
While any dog is a good dog and likely loyal, some breeds have a reputation for having more loyal behaviors than others.
- Chesapeake Bay, golden, and Labrador retrievers
- German and Australian shepherd
- Bulldog and French bulldog
- Irish setter
- Brussels griffon
- Great Pyrenees
- St. Bernard
Understanding breed-specific behaviors
A longstanding belief is that breed determines behavior; this study from 2022 showed that only about 9% of behavior has to do with breed, although many traits are inherited. How does this work?
As dog breeds developed, certain physical and behavioral traits were encouraged so dogs could perform specific tasks. For example, herding dogs were bred to control where and how other animals move, while working dogs were bred to guard property and perform specific tasks their owners need.
Dogs’ perception of their human companions
Dog parents often wonder if their canine best friend loves them or if it’s just about the treats. The answer is yes. Dogs love us because we give them food, treats, and shelter, but this study also shows that they respond positively to their familiar human or humans. This is one of the reasons why your dog likes laying on you or can be clingy. Because of this, it’s good to know your dog and consider training.
Dr. Bruce Armstrong
Well trained and socialized dogs make for better and more cooperative patients in grooming parlors, at dog parks and in veterinary offices however, I have seen the most aggressive dogs in these situations have some very close relationships with their owners but there is no automatic good dog, bad dog with closeness to the family. Some of those with the most tight relationship with their owners suffer from some of the highest anxiety levels in what could be considered non-stressful situations of the majority of dogs and owners.
How to encourage loyalty in your dog
Do you find that your dog isn’t as loyal to you as you’d like? There are ways to encourage a better relationship with your dog and, thus, earn their loyalty.
Nurture trust with your dog — Offer toys, activities, playtime, and/or treats your dog enjoys to help associate you with something they like.
Be a dependable owner — Frequent and routine walks and food and water refills can help your dog understand that you are consistent and dependable.
Express love and care — Quality time, cuddles throughout the day, and providing a safe space when dogs are stressed and nervous from past trauma or stimuli can go a long way to building trust.
Dealing with overwhelming loyalty or separation anxiety
While a loyal dog makes a fantastic addition to any family, it’s important to note that dogs can sometimes be too loyal and clingy. Separation anxiety can become a problem for dogs that haven’t been properly socialized. There are a few ways to help with this.
- Dog training. Self-directed or professional training can help ease your dog’s separation anxiety and build your dog’s confidence. A local, professional dog trainer can assess your dog’s needs and provide custom, tailored guidance.
- Doggie daycare. While not a hard fix for dog separation anxiety, daycare can help establish a routine for your dog and provide enrichment.
- Veterinarian. For dogs that aren’t ideal for training or doggie daycare, it’s best to speak to your veterinarian about calming supplements, or medications designed to help ease your dog’s separation anxiety in conjunction with the methods mentioned above.
While it’s not a given that every dog will be loyal, typically dogs are loyal to the people they love and trust. We meet their needs, from food and water to shelter and attention. This creates a desirable bond that is the result of thousands of years of selective breeding.
Frequently asked questions
Are dogs genuinely loyal?
Yes, they are. While wolves are more pack animals and dogs tend to be better on their own, numerous studies indicate that dogs have a positive relationship with humans. In fact, evidence shows that they are hardwired to love and be loyal to the people they are familiar with.
Are dogs the most loyal animals?
Dogs are some of the most loyal animals in the world thanks to their long history as our companions and the extensive measures humans have taken to create dog breeds with physical and behavioral traits.
Do dogs really love their owners?
Anecdotal experience certainly supports that dogs love their owners unconditionally. But so does science. Studies indicate that oxytocin levels raise for pups (and their people) when cuddling. Additionally, parts of the canine brain associated with love become more active when they see, smell, or hear the humans they are most familiar with.
Why do dogs love humans?
For thousands of years, humans have bred dogs as companions or working dogs. This has led to a strong human-canine bond. Essentially, dogs love humans because we feed them, provide them shelter, and because they were bred to love us.