Puppy Love: How Your Dog Shows You They Care
By Emily Schultze
Whether it’s being ready to dive into your latest puppy story at the drop of the hat or having to fight the urge to squish them with cuddles every time you walk in the door- you know you love your dog. However, there might be times when you are gazing into their adorable puppy-dog eyes and wonder, do they feel the same? While the answer to that question is most definitely yes, there are some behaviors that dogs use to show their love you can look out for.
One such behavior is eye contact. Now, you might be wondering, isn’t eye contact a sign of aggression? And the answer for that yes, but this typically only applies to situations between dogs, staring is often a sign of affection when it’s directed at owners. Similar to how to physical touch can raise oxytocin levels for both dogs and people, studies show that eye contact between owners and their dogs has the same effect. So, if your dog is staring you down with relaxed eyes, with just a bit of white showing, it means that they are happy to be with you.
There are a couple other behaviors that indicate that your dog cares. Some you probably know, like running up to you at the sound of your voice, that full-body wag your dog does when they are overcome with excitement, wanting to be near you, or a relaxed doggy smile. However, there are a few other signs that are a little less obvious, like yawning. A study found that, like humans, dogs were more likely to yawn after their owners yawned versus after a stranger did. The theory about this phenomenon is that it is an indicator of empathy, a sign of the bond between you and your pup.
Another strange, but true sign of bonding is the fact that just your smell alone can activate the reward center of your dog’s brain. Neuroscientist Gregory Berns performed a study where he worked with dogs, their owners, and an MRI machine. Berns first helped train the dogs to feel comfortable entering and being in the MRI machine, and then did scans of their brain while giving them the scents of different people. He discovered that the reward center lit up the most when the dog was smelling the scent of someone familiar.
In addition to individual behavioral queues, multiple studies have also investigated attachment styles between dogs and their owners. These studies observed that bond between dog and owner is reminiscent of how infants behave with their mothers. This was discovered through having dogs and owners go through modified versions of Mary Ainsworth's Strange Situation Test. The Strange Situation Test was created in the 1970's to examine attachment styles by monitoring infants' reactions to new situations or places with and without their mother's presence and reassurance. In the modified version, researchers marked that, similar to the infants' responses, dogs feel more comfortable with their owners and are more likely to explore unfamiliar situations when they are present versus when the dogs are with a stranger or alone.
As you can see, there are many ways for you to learn more about how your dog feels about you. However, every person and dog has their own methods of expressions, so every human-canine bond is unique. In the end, you are the one who knows best the kind of love you and your dog share.