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

Can Dogs Actually Feel Love? We Certainly Love Our Dogs!

Most dogs owners adore their dogs and will go to great lengths to ensure their happiness. But you may wonder if your new furry friend can actually feel love the same way you love him? In the past, many animal behaviorists and scientists scoffed at the idea that dogs can actually have feelings of love. It was commonly believed that dogs only have a few primary emotions and are not capable of the more complex emotions that include what we humans call love.

However, scientists are beginning to embrace some new opinions about dog emotions. Researchers discovered through some recent MRI studies that dogs are capable of having more complex emotions. And now some researches believe that dogs can, indeed, feel love.

Dogs Like Most Mammals Have Many Emotions

“. . . 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 . . . “

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists the following noun synonyms for love: “affectionattachmentdevotednessdevotionfondnesspassion“. When dogs realize that their new owners have become a positive thing in their lives, they will feel more attracted to them. Feelings of trust, devotion, and attachment will likely follow. Merriam-Webster also offers one definition of human love as, “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.” In my opinion, dogs often demonstrate behavior that would seem to be align with feelings of constant affection.

Do Dogs Feel Love for their Owners?

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

You and your dog are now part of the same pack. Just as your dog prefers some dogs in his pack, he will also be drawn toward you. And, yes, he is very capable of feeling love for you.

Dogs in a pack will often become attracted to another particular dog. They may hang out with that dog frequently and even display some signs of affection. 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.

In a similar way, dogs will bond with their owners. Positive experiences will help build trust and a strong feeling of attachment. Here are 10 ways that dogs demonstrate their love and affection for their owners:

  1. Your dog will bring you his favorite toy–this is not just to play, but to bring you something which he prizes greatly
  2. He will carry around one of your socks or shoes because it carries your scent
  3. Your dog enjoys snuggling up close to or leaning on you–it is his way of being affectionate
  4. A dog will often stare at his owner as a way to connect
  5. He really loves to sleep with you in your bed at night — you are part of his pack!
  6. Your dog may follow you around the house and stay close to your side
  7. Dogs will often rub their face on their owners
  8. If your dog comes energetically bounding toward you when called, it is a good sign that he really wants to be with you
  9. Your dog wags his tail in a relaxed but vigorous manner when you greet him
  10. Your dog may actually smile at you with a big open and relaxed mouth
  11. He may give you doggie kisses by licking your nose or face

Both of my dogs often follow me from room to room. When I am working in my home office, they both will curl up under my desk next to my feet. I eventually brought one of their small beds and tucked it under the desk, so they did not have to nap on the floor. One of my dogs who is a little bit more protective of me, will sometimes come looking for me if I leave the room and don’t come back for a while. My smaller dog will try to get very close to me in the morning and lick my nose as I am just waking up. She does this very gingerly and sweetly like a little doggie kiss!

Does Your Dog Feel Love When You Hug Him?

You might think that the best way to show your dog love is to hug him. After all, that is what we do as humans.

However, dogs do not really like to be hugged. It can feel intimidating and confining to them. Several times when I have tried to hug my dogs, they have squirmed to get away from me. And dogs really don’t like being hugged by small kids who may hold onto them too tight.

But most dogs do crave affection and physical contact. Dogs are mammals after all. Dogs really enjoy snuggling up to us, licking us, being petted, and leaning against us. Some dogs might enjoy a little bit of hugging as long as it does not restrain or restrict them.

How Can You Tell Your Dog You Love Him?

Perplexed about how to show love to your dog? There are actually many ways to show your affection. Dogs really crave physical affection and connection just like humans. Physical touch and verbal communications go a long way to let your dog know you care.

Try talking to your dog in gentle but happy tones. Praise him verbally for good behavior and for following commands. You can also reward him with small treats. You can try rubbing his chest and belly, which dogs like better than being patted on the head. Dogs are very sensitive to our moods and tone of voice. So be aware of your voice and body language.

I recently learned a new technique to calm my dog by gently massaging her ears to get the good endorphins going. Take both fingers and gentle stroke the ears from base to tip and then make small circles at the base of her ear. This will help reduce the amount of adrenalin your dog is pumping out when all worked up and replace it with feel good hormones.

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.

In summary, scientific evidence aside, most dog owners believe their dogs love them as much as they love their dogs. And based on overwhelming empirical evidence of watching many happy dogs and their owners at the local parks, I would agree!