Your dog is the best. You go on long walks together, cuddle up on the couch and enjoy sloppy kisses.
You really love that puppy. But what’s going on there? Does your dog love you back? Dogs can likely experience what we think of as loving relationships so he might. Studies show that dogs are pretty good at building relationships with humans.
First, let’s address the bigger philosophical question. Does your dog love anything? Can your dog love?
“I think that in many ways we could apply the same criteria to dogs and other non-human animals as we do to human animals”
That’s Mark Bekoff. He spent a lifetime understanding animal minds from coyotes and wolves to domestic dogs like yours. And he says dogs probably think and feel similar to humans.
A lot of new research on neuroimaging using MRI is showing that the same parts of dog brains and human brains light up, for example, when they’re feeling jealous.
So really, the difference between how your dog feels, joy and other emotions and how you experience them might be like the difference between you and another human.
Comes as no surprise. One study found that dog brains are highly adapted to recognise human faces and interpret our social cues. So maybe that’s why your dog is always extra sweet when it knows you’ve had a bad day.
Does your dog love you or manipulate you?
But are those puppy dog eyes just for you or is your dog pretending to love you for, you know, food?
Its doubtful that dogs understand the concept of manipulation of people to get their own way or have their desires met.
Unlike some people who use other people for their own sake it is unlikely that a dog does this conciously and that any behaviour displayed by a dog that could be interpreted as ‘using a human’ is more likely to be learned behaviour.
In other words the dog has learned that if he does something a certain way then he gets rewarded – this is exactly what we look for in dog training.
So, yes, your dog can love you. Well. All right, great. We can all go home. Well, no, just because they can doesn’t automatically mean that they do.
Each dog is a unique individual, and it’s not one size fits all.
Dogs work on trust to grow their love of you
Some of the most brutally abused dogs have the capacity to love. But in order for a dog to love a human, that love has to be earned. It isn’t just offered by the dog as is.
You have to earn their trust to gain their love
And like everything worth having in life, that trust will take time and work. But it can be done.
You sometimes just go, good dog when they’ve done nothing. And I say good dog to dogs all the time. And people go, well, why did you do that?
They didn’t do anything. And I would always just say, because they’re alive and they’re good dogs. They just it’s like, I don’t know. It’s like a human being saying to a good friend, I love you or I’m really glad to be your friend.
Devloping your dog’s trust is vital for him to grow and develop his love of you, a bit like humans in many ways.
How do you know that your dog loves you?
You’ll know when you’ve earned your pooches trust and love. Does he follow you around? Does he just hang out with you? Relax and wander around with you?
Not only when you’re feeding them or walking them, does your dog follow you around?
Does he seek you out? Do people tell you that when you’re not there, that he wanders around? Does he wait for you at the door or window when you are out without him? Does he go bonkers when you get home?
You know, is it clear that they miss you?
So, does your dog really love you?
Well that depends on you. It is totally possible for dogs to love people and to enjoy their company, but you have to earn the trust of a dog for that to happen.
Your behaviour, the way you interact with your dog and how you treat him will impact his trust levels and thus affect his ability to love you.
Can he love you? Yes, Does he? Well, that’s up to you.