Valentine’s Day might only be for 24 hours, but we’re celebrating love all month long! We’ve already discussed some of the ways you can say, “I love you” in a way your dog will understand. But have you ever wondered how dogs show they love you? In fact, do they even love at all?
Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, conducted a research experiment that challenged the assumption that dogs only pretend to love humans in an attempt to gain access to food. 15 dogs were put in MRI machines and given both praise and hot dogs. Their brains were compared with each stimulus given to see how the dogs responded to them. What did the research tell us about dogs and their ability to love?
Interestingly, 13 out of 15 of the dogs were as much or more excited to receive praise and human interaction as they were to receive food. Would it surprise you to learn that your dog loves you more than they love treats? Well, the next time someone tries to tell you that dogs aren’t capable of love, you can tell them they are and you have the science to back it up!
How do dogs show affection?
Since dogs can’t say “I love you” in the traditional sense of the word, we thought it would be fun to explore all the adorably weird, wonderful, sweet, and silly things our dogs do to show they like us, love us, consider us part of the pack, and trust us.
Read on to find out 17 different ways dogs show affection:
We call it ‘giving kisses,’ but since dogs can’t actually pucker up and smooch the same way we humans do, their version of a kiss is licking the face and hands of the people they love. Licking is probably one of the more obvious ways in which dogs show their affection. That said, some dogs just aren’t into it. Don’t take it personally if your dog isn’t a kisser. There are 15 other ways on this list that your furry best friend might say, “Hey, I think you’re pretty cool!”
If you’ve ever felt your dog lean their full weight against your legs, they were showing you a sign of complete trust. You’re not going to lean up against someone you don’t feel safe and secure with - and neither is your dog. This means your dog sees you as a protector. Your dog may do this for comfort when they’re feeling scared, but when they lean against you during quiet times at home, it’s the equivalent of a full-body hug.
3. Bringing you their toys
Does your dog constantly bring you toys? Presenting you with their prized possessions is a major sign of affection! They could be bringing you gifts since they see you as the head of the household. Or, if the toy is broken, they might see you as an intelligent being who is capable of repairing it for them - a sign that they trust you with this important task. Plus, wanting to play is a sign of puppy love!
4. Nudging you with their nose
Nose nudging can mean a few different things - hey, pay attention to me, pet me, or...I love you. Any one of those is a sign that your dog wants to be near you and wants physical contact.
5. Making a big sigh
Has your dog ever let out a big SIGH after they got really cozy next to you? Soft vocalizations, like sighs, groans, and the like are signs of contentment in dogs. When you hear your furry buddy do that, it means they’re happy!
6. Making eye contact
If someone makes you nervous, the very last thing you want to do is stare into their eyes! Long gazes are reserved for people we feel completely comfortable with. And the same goes for dogs. In fact, maintaining eye contact with your dog helps deepen your bond. When your pup looks at you, their brain releases oxytocin. Known as “the love hormone,” oxytocin is the hormone that mothers’ brains release when they bond with their puppies.
7. Sleeping near you
Dogs are descended from wolves. While they’ve been domesticated for thousands of years, some things haven’t changed. One of those things is their predisposition to sleep in packs for protection. If your dog feels the need to sleep in your bed, or at least in your room, it’s because they see you as a member of the pack, a family member.
8. Showing you their belly
Nothing says “I really, really trust you” more than your pup rolling on their back and asking for a belly rub. Since a dog’s tummy is one of their most vulnerable body parts, this act puts them into a total state of submission - the ultimate signal of love and trust.
9. Following you around
Since they’re pack animals, dogs always want to be with you. It's part of their genetics to follow you everywhere because they consider you a part of their pack. But, they also do it because they enjoy your company and might suffer from a little bit of FOMO (fear of missing out)!
Yes, dogs do smile! If you’ve ever seen your canine companion flash their pearly whites at you and thought it was a smile, you were right! Most people don’t notice it, but it’s a dog’s way of expressing affection.
11. Raising their eyebrows
Have you ever looked at your dog and saw them lift an eyebrow at you? Watch for it! It turns out “puppy dog eyes” are a real thing. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shown that after thousands of years of domestication, dogs have evolved a special eye muscle to better communicate with humans. They are able to move their eyebrows and make that sad, sweet puppy dog face that tugs at our heartstrings. Wolves do not have this ability.
And guess what? Raising an eyebrow back at your dog is a way to communicate that you love them!
12. Wagging their tail
Your dog’s tail says a lot of things, I’m nervous, I’m excited, and I love you just to name a few. Tail wagging is often misunderstood and might not always be a good thing. But, if your dog’s tail is relaxed, raised at about mid-height, moving in a circular motion, and causing a full-body wag - that’s a sure sign that your dog is happy and excited to see you!
13. Jumping around
This is kind of an obvious one - even humans jump around and go bonkers when we’re happy to see someone! Jumping around is a sign of excitement in dogs, but it can also be an unwanted behavior. Here’s where positive reinforcement training comes in extremely handy.
This might not be your favorite expression of love, but it is a healthy expression of love and it can be good for a dog’s social development. That said, you should use training to ensure that roughhousing doesn’t go too far. That means to teach your dog not to bite or bark during rough play.
15. Getting jealous
Does your dog get jealous if you show attention to other people or pets in the house? In dog language (just like it is in human language) jealousy is a sign that your dog really likes your attention and wants to keep all of it to themselves.
16. Stealing your shoes and socks
If your dog raids your dirty laundry for your smelliest clothes, your stinky shoes, and your sweaty socks - yes, it’s yucky, but - it’s a sign of love. It shows that they missed you while you were away and just can’t get enough of your unique smell. The stinkier the better, apparently! It’s okay to discourage this behavior for the sake of your shoes and socks, but just remember that your dog is doing it out of love.
17. Recognizing your name
You know that dogs learn their own names. And you’ve probably noticed, if you have multiple dogs, that they also learn each other’s names. But did you also know they can learn the names of people they like, too? When dogs hear the names of people they like, they’ll get excited at the thought that person might appear.
How do you say “I love you” back to your dog?
Dogs are so very affectionate and unconditionally loving. It’s only fair that we say it back to them...and we should say it in a way they understand. Click here to check out our list of fun ways to tell your dog I love you. One of the easiest ways to say it is with treats, of course!Since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, our Be My Valentine heart-shaped dog treats are a perfectly healthy and drool-worthy way to say “I’m forever yours.” They’re packed with pumpkin, apples, honey, and of course, chia seed. Always sourced and made in the USA.