Yes, they know how much you love them!
Yes, your dog knows that you love them and care for them! Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our pets are autonomous, sentient beings with thoughts, feelings, and even dreams, but if you show your dog love and affection, it’s inevitable that they will be receptive to this and will understand from your behavior your role in their little family pack: protector and guide.
Think about when you were a child and how much you were in awe of your grownup/ caregiver.
This comes from your basic needs being met by this person (think food, shelter, clothes) but there are also chemical processes happening in our brains influencing the relationship. We’re going to read on and learn about the chemicals of love, and further displays of affection such as laying on you and the way dogs like to reciprocate the feelings of love.
What do dogs think about?
Have you ever been going about your day as normal when all of a sudden you notice your pet staring at you with big doe eyes? Their solemn, loving stares can be so funny when you’re caught off guard.
But what are they really thinking about? Well, they are just thinking about how much they love you! Staring at you is one of the ways that they express love for you. Eye contact is one of the ways they show love and affection.
Scientists have found that the chemical oxytocin is a fundamental part of the bonding process. Babies elicit the production of this happiness chemical in the brains of their adult caregivers for their own survival.
Our clever canine companions have, over time, realized that they can evoke similar caregiving tendencies from us by being loyal and showing us reciprocal love.
It’s terrible to think that anyone would mistreat a dog, but the science shows that treating animals poorly results in lower trust, more unpredictable behavior and a failure to thrive.
However, when dogs are given affection and love, they respond in kind. A 2015 study examined dog’s reactions to the smells of a familiar versus a strange human, a familiar versus a strange dog and the dog’s own scent. They scent of the dog’s owner elicited a reaction of anticipation of love, pleasure and excitement.
Interestingly, researchers found that more oxytocin was released by both dogs and humans when they stare each other in their eyes. This means that for the dogs in the study, simple eye contact made them happier than petting or playing.
It’s commonly accepted that dogs have a similar emotional capacity as children aged 2 years old and this is a good way to conceptualize canine emotion. In the same way that dogs love to lie as close to you as possible (and often right on top of you), babies and toddlers use proximity, snuggling and cuddling to show affection.
How do I show love to my dog?
There are so many ways to show love and affection to your dog and most of them will come completely naturally to you.
The time you spend with your pet is the biggest factor in showing love. Their primary motivator in life is to make you happy and even though they might get overly excitable or bark too much or keep you awake at night – they exhibit lots of signs of gratitude for this time spent together.
Since the start of the pandemic, many people have been spending more time at home. Dogs may not understand what COVID-19 is but they certainly understand that they’re getting to spend all day with their owners. This makes a dog feel secure, happy and loved.
However, if you’re required to work away from home, don’t worry – research shows your dog will be excited when you return and that they probably can conceptualize that although you’re away, you’re likely to return.
Another way to show your dog that you love them is to train them. The time you spend with a dog in training is really valuable time for both of you. You’re investing time into the pet to ensure they model desirable behavior, and they see it as a fun time for learning, praising, receiving treats and making you pleased with their behavior.
Understand the particular needs and preferences of your pet. This could include not touching your dog’s paws, tail or stomach because they prefer not to be touched there. Not all dogs want the same expressions of affection. If you’ve seen a video of a dog enjoying something, don’t assume its universal. You know your pet better than anyone, and they have unique characteristics that you must respect.
A love that’s been in the making for over 15,000 years
We can identify the unique social bond between humans and dogs existing as far back as 15,000 years ago and even potentially further back to 36,000 years.
Throughout the millennia, certain species of dogs who were positively disposed to hunting with humans and who displayed the ability to protect their human counterparts have evolved alongside the earliest humans.
Interestingly, experts say that the adaption of dogs into the human bond has changed the course of human history and enabled significant advantages for our species.
In fact, there is more evidence of dog burials than any other type of species, including cats and horses. This shows the unique relationship enjoyed between humans and dogs and the respect given to them by our ancestors.
While the release of hit documentaries like Tiger King have shown us beyond any doubt that wild animals cannot and should not be domesticated, dogs are social creatures who desire our attention and interest and are happy to let us control them.
One example is what happens in a dog’s brain when they are playing with humans. Somewhat unsurprisingly, dogs display extremely positive emotions when playing with humans and even though their owners don’t usually display overwhelming positivity, they will keep playing just for happiness of their animal. It’s a match made in heaven!
What stresses out my dog?
Dogs are simple creatures, but a lot of the time, it can be difficult to understand exactly what they’re doing. There are some common signs of canine distress, like lip curling, growling or shaking. But there are other signs that indicate unhappiness that may not be evident.
For example, having a phone call while on loudspeaker can irritate dogs because of their sensitive ears, so they can respond in negative ways, such as whining, barking or misbehaving.
New smells, experiences and trips away from home can also cause your dog to feel upset and act out. If you notice a new behavior that seems unusual, you should always check with your vet to rule out anything serious.
It’s also important to keep an eye on behaviors that may not seem destructive but are actually unhealthy. For example, if your dog is licking themselves or grooming themselves excessively, it could be a sign that they’re not feeling safe or otherwise expressing unhappiness.
Remember to treat your dog as an individual, respect their needs and manage their stress as they would your own.
You and your dog: a match made in heaven
The reason that we search for answers online about our dog’s behavior is because we want to know more about their internal lives. Even though you might not know everything about how they are feeling, you can always find an initial first answer online. If you still need expert advice, make sure to consult your vet.
What signs does your dog show that they love you? Reinforce any positive behaviors that cement your bonds and just remember to give them some great eye contact later on!