Does My Dog ACTUALLY Love Me?

Have you ever wondered if your #dog ACTUALLY loves you? In this post I explore the scientific evidence that dogs love us (and we love them!) and where science and soul meet:

Do dogs actually love us? Science says yes, probably!For a long time, I’ve been losing sleep over this. Does my dog ACTUALLY love me – or does she just see me as a source of food, comfort and shelter? If so, should that matter? Does that affect the way I feel about her?

Platitudes insisting that dogs love us, adore us, and will be waiting for us at the Rainbow Bridge – I don’t typically tear them down, because I know they make plenty of people feel good, but, this is my blog, and I’m ready to say, “BLAUGH.” It’s made up crap – why believe it? I can’t be the only one who just doesn’t buy it. 

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself... really? I highly doubt it.
I highly doubt it, Josh Billings.

This Is A Dog For The Lonely

Dogs make us feel less lonely. Sometimes, we don’t need someone who can solve our problems or talk us through our insecurities. Sometimes, we just need someone to snuggle.

Enjoying the company of a dog is fulfilling and worthwhile. It’s clear that dogs benefit from spending time with us, too.

But why should we think our dogs love us more than they love themselves? Why would we even want it to be that way?

I don’t think we need an extreme amount of love and devotion from our dogs. What they already offer us is more than enough.

When we have complicated people problems, the kind our dogs would never understand, they distract us with their antics. They remind us that, yes, there is something worth living for, and no matter what we do, say, or go through in life, there will always be someone who needs us.

What Is Love? (Doggy Don’t Hurt Me)

It’s hard to define and recognize a dog’s love. It’s harder to understand it in humans.

Sure, our lovers, children, friends and parents can say, “I love you,” but verbally expressing it isn’t the definitive way to know if we’re loved.

Is it the need to spend time together? A tingly feeling in the stomach? A want to cry tears of joy when they’re around, and a feeling of devastation when they’re not?

If so, then do we cease to love each other when we fail to please one another? Are we obligated to love everyone, and if not, why are some people not deserving of it?

I’ve run out of question marks. Instead of tentatively asking questions, I need to write exactly how I feel.

I feel that love is not the sum of benefits a person or dog provides for us.

If we only define love as a feeling, a noticeable, fuzzy feeling inside, we’re not doing our loved ones justice. Fuzzy feelings can be caused by hormones, indigestion, and pulses in the brain. If love only exists when we feel fuzzy inside, we fail to notice the love that is still present when we no longer feel fuzzy.

I don’t feel fuzzy when my dog does something I don’t like – for example, chase after a cat – but I don’t stop loving her… right?

Lovers don’t feel fuzzy throughout the ups and downs of daily life. If you only recognize love when you feel a “spark,” you’re really only acting in pursuit of a bodily high.

We make many sacrifices for the ones we love. Love is the only possible reason I expressed Matilda’s anal glands for the first time today and didn’t even think it was gross. I didn’t feel fuzzy inside, either – I was too busy hoping that I could make her butt feel better.

Sometimes, people do good deeds to earn credit, recognition, or create a debt.

But good deeds and sacrifices created by love are truly selfless. We don’t have to be photographed or recognized – we don’t even have to be thanked – to feel satisfied doing things out of love.

That’s the only way makes sense. Anal glands are love.

Scientific Proof That Dogs Love Us

I’m crazy about dog science. Every few weeks or so, I discover yet another study that shows us a peek inside the amazing canine brain.

Dogs participating in a recent study were trained to sit still in an MRI machine so their brain activity could be observed as they were given a reward hand signal, received a food reward, and were exposed to the scents of an unfamiliar and a familiar dog, their own scent, and the scents of a familiar and an unfamiliar human.

The study showed that the scent of a familiar human greatly activates a dog’s caudate nucleus – the part of the brain associated with positive experiences – more than any other factor in the experiment. The familiar human scent was from a person who was not present. So, these dogs were having happy feelings just from smelling one of their humans.

It’s not as though we dog owners didn’t know this, of course. Our own observations count as science, even if we don’t conduct controlled experiments.

Scientific Proof That We Love Dogs

Another study compared brain activity of women who had both children and dogs. When shown photos of their own children, mothers’ brains indicated a spark of emotion, affiliation and reward – regardless of whether the photos were of their human children or furry children. However, there were some differences that showed our feelings, while similar, are unique.

Dogs are not our children – but they make us feel equally happy.

The Intersection Of Science And Soul

Love dogsScience shows us that, biologically, dogs are hardwired to love us, seek us out when they’re scared, and they simply love being around us.

I’m still wondering if they can detect the fuzzy feelings we get when they cuddle with us, lick us, and make us part of their silly games. I have a feeling that they do have some inkling of how much they mean to us, but really, they have no idea.

Would they squeeze our anal glands, if things were the other way around? I think they would.

By Lindsay Pevny

Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews. She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies. As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed. You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

34 comments

  1. Great article! I know our dog knows how much we love him. Does he love us…the jury is still out! Oh, just kidding. He’s a senior dog and a pure curmudgeon at this stage. 🙂

  2. I never thought about it that way!
    But I’m sure my dogs love me when I see their cute faces and wagging tales at the door when I come home! They do make my life whole <3!

  3. When I am in a crowd, or at a distance, and I see my dog searching for me and then the expression on his face when he spots me, that is when I realize I am not just another human to him! Good article.

  4. What a great post! I’ve wondered this myself, despite being aware of the science behind it. The other day, I had the closest thing I’ve ever had to proof: Henry and I were snuggling, and every time we hit a particularly snuggly position, he would make this tiny happy groan-y grumble. It was the CUTEST thing!

  5. I’ve asked myself this question so many times. (Funny, I never questioned whether my cat loved me). What I do know is it’s easier to determine if my dog loves me than my now ex-boyfriend. For the time being, I’m sticking with the dog. (Can we attach guys to this MRI machine? Would have saved me some time).

  6. I know for sure that my dog loves me, she sticks by my side and follows me , my little shadow! If I have to go anywhere without her she lets out a shrill when I return home, which lasts for 2-3 minutes!

  7. I feel pretty confident that our dogs love us. They get excellent care when other people take care of them, sometimes even get more treats and lavish treatment, but they are still so excited and happy to see us!

  8. This was an interesting article. I would be interested to know what part trust plays in this equation and how it affects perceived “love” from a dog. My rescue didn’t trust me for a long, long time, and as a result, didn’t see me as a safe person….merely a caretaker and playmate.

  9. If Mr. N loved me any more, I’d have to get a restraining order! But seriously, he is very devoted.

  10. Kilo the Pug definitely loves being with me and getting attention from me. However, I am pretty sure he loves food best. At a recent Purina event, I met a hero dog who threw himself in front of a bear to save his human’s life (all survived without injury).

  11. I have always known that my dogs love me unconditionally. They are the truest friends that a human will ever have. ♥

  12. These are the kind of questions that keep me up at night and then I end up driving myself crazy. I have no idea what love is for humans or dogs. It’s one of those mysterious things that just is …it’s not explainable so I just define it based on my own experience. And in my experience, dogs and cats do love us back though probably in a different way than we love them.

  13. I say yes. Otherwise, for the very same reasons we ask “does my dog love me,” what’s to stop us from asking that about our “people”? And who wants to go down that tunnel of questioning? 😀
    amyjhueston.com

  14. It’s such a great question. I’m a cat blogger and I usually get this from cat owners. Once you get to know a pet, understand its psychology and know how to read its body language, things become so much cleared, don’t they.

  15. Great article, something I have pondered about in the past but came to the conclusion if she will not go with anyone else but me then she must love me

    1. I envy your ability to render my opinions on this subject in a more cohesive and concise manner than I alone would be able to do. Therefore my new motto is; why opine online when there are more intelligent people to do it for you? Great read ZM. Keep it up!

  16. I’ve never considered that my pets didn’t love me. All I can say with certainty is that they’ve given me more than my ex-husband and so-called friends every did!

  17. Without a doubt I think our pets love us. I know that I am more than a caretaker to my cats because they actively seek me out to snuggle and be with – not just at meal times. The love of a pet is a wonderful thing!

  18. As I write this, I have two balls of fur at my feet looking up at me with that look. The ‘I love you’ look.

  19. First of all, kudos to you for expressing your dog’s anal glands, you’re a braver woman than I, LOL!! I leave that task to the groomer. Interesting article, thought provoking. I feel my dogs love. The fact that they always want to be around me (whether or not treats may be involved), the fact that they sense when something’s not right with me & it distresses them & they come over to “comfort” me. My dogs would rather be with me, even if we just sit on the cough together, than do pretty much anything else – I’d say that’s love!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  20. I’m glad that you have been able to find some satisfying answers to this question! I also believe that our pets can love us (and most do). Cats and dogs may not have emotions that are as complicated as the ones that humans have, but they do appear to have a basic sense of all of the same emotions – including love. Every time one of my cats chooses to come over and initiate some sort of affection with me, it reminds me that they love me.

  21. Hmm, well, I’ve never done that thing you did (and I hope I never have to; I wouldn’t do it for my husband either, or my kids, probably. Please no.), but I do tend to several litter boxes, so there’s that. 🙂

    I don’t know whether my dogs LOVE me (in a human sense), but they do like me A LOT. That is important to me, for sure. Even if they didn’t like me, I’d still love them, though. Very deep stuff to mull over!

    1. LOL, it’s the gross things that make us realize how much we love them! I guess we do have that for certain, that they really do like us, if nothing else!

  22. I feel like dogs do have their own version of love. They show it through loyalty and affection for their family. Dogs can even become “bonded” with other dogs or humans and will become anxious or depressed when separated.

    1. I do wonder if Cow and Matilda love each other. They always stick together if they manage to get loose, and just recently they’ve started laying next to one another.

  23. Ah, what is love? The age old question. I don’t know if my cats love me but I know they are pretty happy. They make me happy and I love them. That’s what matters to me. Great thought provoking post.

  24. I trademarked “My Heart Beats Dog” (r) because it totally reflects how I feel. I love when science proves what the human heart has known for ages: Dogs are love 😉

  25. Very interesting article! So thought provoking…I like to believe what I feel from my dogs is indeed love (well, four out of five, one I think is in it just for the food!) The bond that forms is a special one. What they show me and what I feel for them I know in my heart is love and am so thankful for it, every day!

  26. Hi Lindsay,

    Great article!

    I think the answer to your question as to whether our dogs detect the fuzzy feeling when we cuddle is yes. A study done at Azabu University in Japan found that eye contact between dogs and their owners released a rush of the cuddle hormone, Oxytocin. It’s the same hormone which creates the bond between mother and baby.

    Animal behaviorist Takeumi Kikusui who lead the study says this could be one of the reasons why thousands of years ago a friendly pack of wolves evolved alongside us and became our canine counterparts. It’s interesting that the study also found that in wolf owner pairs there was no increase in the cuddle hormone even although the wolf was raised by their human.

    On a less scientific note – I think dogs have a favorite human. Like in our house Charley and Zè have chosen me as their favorite human. And Lexi adores my hubby – she’ll even drop her bone if she hears his car in the driveway. Charley was my rescue 3 years ago and I’m the one who’s worked to get her back to her confident self after years of abuse. Lexi was rescued by hubby 18 months ago. And Zè, well he’s just a goofy boy who loves his mama! As a family unit we all love each other equally and there’s no favoritism from us to them. But I think dogs do have that one person they adore above anyone else.

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