Woman on a grassy field petting and kissing her Beagle pup.

Do Dogs Feel Love? The Science Behind Their Emotions

Last updated on November 18th, 2023 at 06:37 pm

Dog owners are known to deeply care for their pets and often wonder if their canine companions can actually reciprocate the love they receive. Previously, many animal behaviorists and scientists believed that dogs were only capable of a limited range of primary emotions, while feelings like love were considered beyond their scope.

However, recent advancements in scientific research have begun to challenge these beliefs. Results from MRI studies indicate that dogs may be capable of experiencing more complex emotions, leading some researchers to believe that dogs can indeed feel love. This has opened up new avenues of understanding the emotional dynamics between pet owners and their dogs.

Key Takeaways

  • Dogs may have a wider range of emotions than previously believed
  • Recent research suggests that dogs could possibly experience feelings of love
  • MRI studies have contributed to a better understanding of dogs’ emotional capabilities

Keep reading to learn more about the fascinating complexity of the canine’s ability to feel complex emotions including love.

Dogs, Like Most Mammals, Have Many Emotions

Dogs, as well as other mammals, possess a wide range of emotions, such as joy, trust, and acceptance, which are key primary emotions shared with humans. These emotions play a significant role in establishing a strong bond between dogs and their owners. It is common for dogs to develop a protective instinct around their owners and even display jealousy when other dogs or people come close.

Scientfic Studies

Several researchers, including Dr. Stanley Coren, believe that dogs can feel love. Love, according to Dr. Robert Plutchik, is a combination of joy and trust, leading to the conclusion that dogs’ ability to experience primary emotions suggests they can also feel complex emotions such as love. The canine brain’s emotional capacity develops over time, similar to humans, with the potential to form strong attachment to their owners.

Findings from MRI studies show that the caudate nucleus in the canine brain responds to the smell of their owners, suggesting an emotional connection. Moreover, the hormone oxytocin, often associated with love, is released in both dogs and their owners during interactions, indicating a mutual bond.

Clive Wynne, a researcher from the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, did a recent study that further supports the notion that dogs have a remarkable capacity for emotions. His work emphasizes the importance of understanding a dog’s emotions in order to create positive, long-lasting relationships between dogs and their owners.

Similar Emotional States Can Indicate that Dogs Do Feel Love

Based on these studies, it would appear that a dog’s brain activity reflects a similarity to human emotions. A pet parent and their furry friend may share a similar emotional state regarding feelings of love.

“. . . if dogs can feel all of the 8 primary emotions, I suggest they can also feel many complex emotions.
And even Dr. Stanley Coren thinks that dogs can feel love . . .
D. Euritt

I wrote recently in a post entitled, 8 Primary Emotions that Dogs Share with Humans, that acceptance is a key primary emotion that both humans and dogs feel. “Acceptance is a basic emotion which elicits trust, attachment, interest in another being.” Most dogs become very attached to their owners and will even go so far as to try to protect them or even become jealous of other dogs and people who try to get too close.

In my post, I concluded based on the research of some top scientists that dogs can indeed feel love: “According to Dr. Robert Plutchik, love is a combination of two primary emotions. Love is a combination of joy and trust (acceptance), and guilt equals the primary emotions of joy + fear. Therefore, if dogs can feel all of the 8 primary emotions, I suggest they can also feel many complex emotions. And even Dr. Stanley Coren thinks that dogs can feel love . . . “

Do Dogs Feel Love for their Owners?

What Research Shows

Dogs are often considered our best friend for their loyalty, companionship, and emotional bonds with humans. They develop a strong connection with their owners, often displaying affection and love in various ways. This emotional attachment can be so profound that dogs may experience separation anxiety when their human companions are not around.

Research has also discovered that dogs oxytocin levels (the love hormone) rise when they look into their owners eyes. This is much like the connection between a parent and a child. Dogs and humans develop compatible habits, daily routines, and even share similar personality traits over time. This bond is formed through positive experiences and trust built between the dog and its owner.

How Dogs Behavior Demonstrates Love Toward Us and Family Members

Two mixed breed dogs, a brown and black dog, are snuggled up close to one another on a blanket on the couch.

My two rescue dogs were raised together as siblings and were never separated. When they had to be re-homed, the person who was helping with their adoption did not want to separate them. Both pups had clearly bonded to one another. They snuggled together in one bed even at the age of five years. And, each morning they groomed each other, licking one another’s eyes and ears.

Dogs demonstrate love and affection through a variety of actions, including:

  • Bringing a favorite toy: Dogs bring prized possessions to their owners, showcasing their love by sharing something valuable.
  • Carrying owner’s belongings: Dogs may carry items with their owner’s scent, such as socks or shoes, as they find comfort in them.
  • Snuggling and leaning: Dogs enjoy close physical contact, snuggling up or leaning on their owners to showcase affection.
  • Staring: A dog may stare at its owner to establish a connection and build an emotional bond.
  • Sleeping together: Dogs enjoy sleeping with their owners as part of their pack, further solidifying their connection.
  • Following and staying close: Dogs often follow their owners around and stay close to their side, indicating their love and loyalty.
  • Rubbing their face on owners: This act of affection is common among dogs who feel close to their human companions.
  • Excited greetings: When a dog energetically bounds towards its owner when called, it shows a strong desire to be with them.
  • A wagging tail: A relaxed, vigorous tail wag during greetings signals happiness and love towards their owner.
  • Doggy kisses: Licking the owner’s nose or face is a common way for dogs to display their love.

Does Your Dog Feel Love When You Hug Them?

Although humans often show love through hugs, dogs may not enjoy this form of affection as much. Hugging can feel intimidating and confining to them, and they may even try to squirm away when hugged. This is especially true when young children hold onto dogs too tightly. Nonetheless, dogs crave physical contact and affection, as they are mammals. They appreciate other forms of interaction, such as:

  • Snuggling up to their owners
  • Experiencing eye contact during bonding moments
  • Receiving pats and cuddles
  • Showcasing their happiness through various actions, like licking or leaning against their human companions

Some dogs might enjoy gentle hugs that do not restrain or restrict their movement, but it is crucial to observe and respond to their individual preferences. Remember, the key to showing affection is to respect a dog’s boundaries while nurturing their unconditional love and motivation.

Dogs and their owners may become so connected, they develop compatible habits and daily routines. Dogs and humans adapt to one another and may even begin to share similar personality traits like any other family with members who have been together for a long time. Be sure to see more about this fascinating topic in my post, Why Dogs and Owners Have Similar Personalities.

How Can You Tell Your Dog You Love Them?

Positive Interactions with Your Pup Express Your Care and Love

Showing love to your dog can be achieved through various approaches, keeping in mind the importance of physical touch and verbal communication in making your dog feel cared for.

Start by using a gentle and happy tone of voice when talking to your dog. Praise their good behavior and acknowledge their obedience with words of appreciation. To further encourage positive actions, reward your dog with small treats and healthy food.

Physical affection is crucial in communicating love. Instead of patting your dog on the head, try rubbing their chest and belly. Remember that dogs are sensitive to body language and tone of voice, so be mindful of your gestures and expressions to ensure a clear message.

Another effective way to show love and calm your dog is through a gentle ear massage. By stroking the ears from base to tip and making small circles at the base, you release endorphins that reduce adrenaline, helping your dog feel at ease.

Fun Activities and Quality Time Together Enhance Bonding

Engaging in exercise and enjoyable activities is essential in strengthening bonds. Dedicate time to go on adventures with your dog, ensuring their well-being and growth. Dogs benefit from a safe and consistent environment, which includes routines for meals and bedtime, as this provides them with a sense of security.

Take note of the following strategies to let your dog know you love them:

  • Verbal communication: Use gentle, happy tones while talking to your dog.
  • Reward with treats: Offer small, healthy treats to encourage positive behavior.
  • Physical touch: Rub your dog’s chest and give some belly rubs for stronger connection.
  • Ear massage: Gently stroke and massage the ears to release feel-good hormones.
  • Engage in exercise: Spend time in physical activities to strengthen your bond.
  • Establish routine: Create a consistent schedule to provide a sense of security.

Probably the best way for you to show your dog love is to spend time with him doing exercise and fun things. Be sure to provide a safe environment with a consistent schedule for meal and bedtime. Like humans, dogs appreciate routine which gives them a sense of security. You can also see my post, How to Bond with Your New Rescue Dog” for more information about building a loving connection with you dog.


Dogs indeed have the capacity to experience emotions like joy, fear, anger, disgust, and love, according to Psychology Today. Love in dogs is understood as a combination of joy and trust.

Some behaviorists argue that dogs’ affection towards their owners might be motivated by self-interest rather than genuine love. However, research indicates that dogs are capable of forming strong emotional bonds with humans, as suggested by the American Kennel Club.

At the end of the day, a dog and their human companion do, indeed, share a special bond of love. Dogs do possess the emotional capacity to feel love towards their owners. Although some of their behavior might be motivated by self-interest, it is essential to recognize their innate ability to form emotional connections and experience love.

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