Man’s best friend-science tells us that dogs and humans began living together as long as 40,000 years ago. That is truly a long standing relationship! Dogs have become a significant part of our daily lives and most of us consider them family. The United States has the distinction of having the most dogs worldwide with about 44% of Americans being dog owners. In addition, over 72 billion dollars is spent each year on our pets, so there is no doubt that we love our pets-but can we be really know if they love us back? It turns out that-yes-we can.
How Do We Really Know Dogs Love Us?
Scientists from Emory University performed a study of 12 dogs who were trained to sit very still while undergoing an MRI of their brains. While in the scanner, the dogs were provided different scent sources to sniff from: a) a familiar human (someone in the dog’s household) b) an unfamiliar human c) a familiar dog and d) an unfamiliar dog. The researchers then determined which parts of the brain were most activated with each scent. The findings clearly showed that the pleasure centers of the brain were activated most significantly with the familiar human scents. The researchers were able to conclude that dogs not only recognized their “people” but have anticipation of good things when they see (or smell) their human.
This response to a familiar human was even stronger than with a familiar dog! However, you may think, well they are anticipating food or treats, that is not really “love”. Another study looked at this very question and found that on average, dogs responded equally to the possibility of treats versus praise from their human. There were some individual differences with some dogs, but overall, there was no significant difference in the dogs’ response to the potential of scoring food or getting some love from their person.
How Do Dogs Show Us Their Love?
· They lie on you-this is behavior they exhibit with their litter mates when they are puppies and demonstrates that they feel very secure with you. This is what they do with family members
· They sit next to you or at your feet-they are marking you as his/hers-you are their “person”
· They make eye contact with you-this shows they trust and you and they experience release of the hormone oxytocin released which is key in bonding with you
· They lick you-they are showing your that they respect your authority in the pack
· They lean on you-this is a display of full trust of you
· They roll upside down-by showing their belly they are showing you they feel safe with you and you are part of their pack
· They jump up on you-although this behavior can be very annoying, they are trying getting closer to you (especially in smaller dogs)
How Can You Strengthen The Bond With Your Dog?
1. Hang out with them/let them be near you
Taking walks, going to the dog park, or playing games with toys are all great ways to get closer with your pup. Even when you are not being active, letting them lie next to you while you read, work on the computer, or watch T.V. allows them to feel close to you.
2. Be calm when with them
Keeping a calm demeanor when spending time with your dog is extremely important for him/her to feel that both you and the environment is a safe one. Just think if you had to be in a tense or loud environment frequently, this would set you on edge as well. The same goes for your pup. They like to know that you are okay and that means they are okay as well.
3. Be consistent with how you treat them
Another important thing that builds trust with your fur baby is their knowing how you will respond consistently to their behaviors. If you greet them similarly each time you come home, redirect unwanted behaviors in a calm way, and be consistent with what you do and do not allow, they will understand the rules of the pack and their place in it.
4. Train/teach them how you want them to behave
This is an important one! It would seem that by correcting their behaviors, this would make them unhappy, but actually the opposite is true. Dogs naturally thrive in packs and each pack has a leader-which is you. If the pack leader does not have control, this creates anxiety and discontent within the pack. A pack leader teaches the rules for the pack and this includes which behaviors are acceptable and which are not.
5. Play with them!!!
Dogs need play to be healthy both physically and mentally. Play brings joy and allows a dog to manage energy levels and by being a part of these happy play sessions you are further solidified as a very important part of your dog’s life. Playing with your dog also strengthens the association of positive and fun experiences with being with you!
6. Learn your dog’s individual personality
Just like people, dogs have individual personality quirks, qualities, likes, and dislikes. Knowing these help your dog feel valued as part of the pack and feel that he/she is being well taken care of. This will be different for each dog, so if you have a multi-dog family, it will be important to pay attention to each one’s individuality.
Dogs provide us so much joy-they make us laugh, remind us how to play, teach us patience, and once earned, trust us fiercely. As their human, once we show them they are worthy of that trust, they also show us they love us right back in their own unique, adorable and absolutely unforgettable ways. Once you have that love from them, it is forever.