Large brown and black shelter dog eager to greet young girl who is petting him

Why Are Shelter Dogs so Loving?

Last updated on February 18th, 2023 at 06:03 pm

If you have ever walked through a shelter full of dogs awaiting adoption you may have felt overwhelmed. Each dog was probably eager to meet you and connect. Most shelter dogs will run to the front of their cages and stick their nose through the grates for any chance to get a pat on the head or sniff a friendly hand.

Instinctively, we can probably guess why. They are eager to get out of the shelter and interact with someone who might care and engage with them. Yet, their eagerness to connect with us might be more than that.

Shelter dogs who have been re-homed, abandoned, or lost, have been cut off from their former owners and are yearning to bond with someone. They crave affection and attention and are eager to please and connect with a new friend. The primary reason that shelter dogs are so loving is that they have been around the block a couple of times. They understand the value of having a caring human bond.

Dogs Are Incredibly Social Animals

To begin with, dogs love to be with other dogs and humans. They are pack animals by nature and develop deep bonds with their immediate circle of fellow beings. In the wild, dogs sleep together, eat together, and hunt together. They find protection in numbers as well as mates, companionship, and family.

Domesticated dogs have long looked to their human owners as part of their pack. Dogs easily learn to play with, interact, and communicate with their special people and miss them when separated. Most of us who have dogs can appreciate the strong bond that we have with our furry friends.

Dogs are very unhappy if they are isolated and not allowed to interact and socialize with other dogs or people. It is no wonder that shelter dogs become so excited when visitors come to say hello and look for a special mutt to adopt.

A Shelter Dog Has Been Around the Block a Few Times

Many dogs who enter a shelter have had a family or special person in their lives. A dog may end up in a shelter due to the death of his owner or the need to be rehomed due to changes in his family’s life. Some dogs have become lost and end up as strays. Still, others may have been abandoned by someone who no longer is willing or able to care for them.

But in most cases, shelter dogs have had a relationship with an owner. Some good, and some not so good. Regardless, that person was their primary source of companionship, food, and shelter. But now they are on their own, locked away with a bunch of other dogs, and they have to find new ways to cope.

So, it is no wonder that a dog in a shelter is eager to make another human connection and be part of a family again. See this clip below about a really happy dog on the day of his adoption.

Benny gets adopted!

Dogs Are Capable of Bonding Fairly Quickly

Dogs have an amazing ability to adapt to new situations and live in the present moment. Even dogs who are grieving the loss of their former owner, will heal over time and be capable of bonding with someone new.

A recent study that was published by the National Institute of Health about shelter dogs, found that foster families were very effective in preparing a dog to better connect when adopted by a new family. Dogs who had been isolated, abused, or neglected needed to learn how to relate and socialize with people who cared. You can see by this chart below that shelter dogs who were first placed with foster families were more secure and less ambivalent toward humans over dogs who only had shelter experience after being rescued.

Proportion of dogs categorized into each attachment style for foster and shelter dog populations.
Figure 2 (From study Characterizing Human–Dog Attachment Relationships in Foster and Shelter Environments as a Potential Mechanism for Achieving Mutual Wellbeing and Success by Lauren E. Thielke* and Monique A.R. Udell)

Humans and Dogs Have a Natural “Love” Connection

When we look into the big open eyes of our dog, it is very much like looking into a baby’s eyes. It actually stimulates the hormone oxytocin which elicits feelings of love, bonding, and trust. See my post “Can Dogs Actually Feel Love?” for more about this.

“New research shows that when our canine pals stare into our eyes, they activate the same hormonal response that bonds us to human infants.

David Grimm

Interestingly, dogs have this hormone as well. When we lock eyes with our dogs, chances are they are feeling the effects of oxytocin and feeling a similar bond. According to David Grimm who wrote, “How dogs stole our hearts” for says, “New research shows that when our canine pals stare into our eyes, they activate the same hormonal response that bonds us to human infants. The study—the first to show this hormonal bonding effect between humans and another species—may help explain how dogs became our companions thousands of years ago. ”

Most Rescued Dogs Can Love a New Owner Even if it Takes a While

Dogs who have been rescued from dire situations such as puppy mills where they are isolated in small cages or dogs who have been abused will need time to overcome their fears. Dogs from these situations are usually shy, fearful, and sometimes aggressive. However, with proper conditioning and care from shelter staff or foster families, they can learn to respond to people in a positive way. Some dogs simply do not know how to relate. Others are leary due to past experience.

In most situations, however, these dogs do heal. These are the truly remarkable shelter dogs who turned into very loving and wonderful family dogs. All they needed was some TLC and a chance to live in a loving home.

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