Dogs have lived alongside us for thousands of years, earning the reputation as "man’s best friend" for good reason. But while some people may be quick to dismiss a dog’s devotion as simply a relationship based on need, experts say that’s just not true.
“Dogs have developed the strongest ability of all animals on Earth to form affectionate bonds with humans,” says Dr. Frank McMillan D.V.M., director of well-being studies at Best Friends Animal Society, an organization helping adopters find loving companions. "Dogs don’t just love us — they need us, but not just for food and physical care. They need us emotionally. This is why the attachment bond a dog feels for his human is one of deep devotion and is, as has been often stated, unconditional."
But how exactly does a dog say, “I love you”? Read on to find out.
Your dog wants to be close to you.
If your dog is always in your lap, leaning against you or following you room to room, it’s clear your pooch is attached to you.
"A dog’s affection is most evident in their desire to be physically close to you. This can sometimes appear to be a clinginess, and it isn’t always easy to distinguish healthy positive clinginess from insecurity, but in both cases your dog is deeply attached to you," McMillan says.
Your dog gazes into your eyes.
When you and your pup share a long look, your dog is "hugging you with his eyes," according to Brian Hare, a professor at Duke University who studies canine cognition, and research shows that this "hug" has a profound effect on both man and animal.
When scientists at Japan’s Azabu University took urine samples from dogs and their owners before and after 30 minutes of interacting, they found that the pairs that spent the most time gazing into each others' eyes showed significantly higher levels of the hormone oxytocin, the same hormonal response that bonds us to human infants. "It’s an incredible finding that suggests that dogs have hijacked the human bonding system," Hare told Science.
Your dog excitedly greets you.
Does your pup jump up, wag his tail and barely seem able to contain contain his excitement when you arrive home? If so, that’s a sure sign of affection.
"This becomes even more obvious when your dog learns, like Pavlov’s dogs, that some sound signals your upcoming arrival, like the garage opener or sound of your car, and they show excitement upon hearing that sound," McMillan says.
Your dog sleeps with you.
Dogs are pack animals that often huddle together at night for warmth and protection, so when your dog snuggles up with you, it means he considers you to be part of the family. And these canine cuddles may even help you get a better night’s sleep.
You are your dog’s safe haven.
"Much affection in animals and humans is based on how much you can be relied on as a source of comfort and support in scary situations," McMillan says. "If your dog seeks your comfort during thunderstorms, car rides, vet visits or other frightening occurrences, then you are seeing another aspect of her attachment bond to you."
Your dog 'reads' you and reacts accordingly.
A close bond with your dog may enable him to sense your mood and respond with affection. "Many dogs who sense that you are upset or not feeling well will demonstrate their affection by spending even more time by your side. They might give you licks or rest their head or paws on some part of your body," McMillan says.
Your dog yawns when you yawn.
If you’ve ever yawned after witnessing another person’s yawn, you’re aware how contagious the act can be. This contagious yawning is unique to only a few species, and man’s best friend is one of them.
Researchers have even found that not only are dogs more likely to yawn after watching familiar people yawn, but also that dogs will yawn when hearing only the sound of a loved one’s yawn. So if your canine companion yawns in response to your yawns, odds are good that his affection for you enables him to empathize with you.
Your dog focuses on you.
It’s not unusual for dogs to delight in positive attention from virtually anyone, but just because your pooch loves on everyone, doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you most. Pay attention to how your dog acts when in a room full of people. If he stays focused on you or ignores others while awaiting your return, you know you hold a special place in your dog’s heart.
Your dog forgives you.
"Part of the affectionate feelings your dog has for you shows up in their willingness to forgive you for things you do that make them feel bad, such as raising your voice, or misplacing your frustration on your dog by ignoring them," McMillan says. “Forgiveness is your dog’s attempt to maintain the loving bond they share with you.”
However, even if your canine best friend doesn’t show affection in these ways, it certainly doesn’t mean your pooch doesn’t love you. Just as some people can care deeply without expressing their feelings, so can your pup.
"Be sure not to go through the list above and think that because your dog shows very few or even none of these things, he or she doesn’t love you. Odds are, love is very much there. After all, we’re talking about a dog here," McMillan says.
And how can you show your dog some love? Engage in playtime, take a long walk, bake some yummy dog treats, or give your pup a homemade toy. Above all, McMillan says the best thing you can do is simply give your dog more of you because that’s what man’s best friend wants most of all.