How Do Dogs Say, ‘I Love You?’

From slobbery kisses to body leans, dogs display their distinctive styles when it comes to showering affection on their favorite people.

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Dogs might not speak our language, but they find other ways to show their affection. Astakhova/iStock/Thinkstock
Arden Moore

For thousands of years, “love” wasn’t a concept that people thought of in connection with dogs. The initial relationships between early humans and wild canines most likely developed around a mutual need for food and an ability to help each other hunt. Dogs were more like work partners than the dearly cherished family members of today.

Within the past two decades, dogs have rapidly moved from being backyard protectors to bedroom blanket-stealers. So, it begs the question: Do dogs actually feel love toward people and, if so, how do they express it?

Do Dogs Love People? The Professionals Weigh In
I posed this question to a few leading dog experts and a pack of dog-adoring Facebook followers. Let’s start with insights unleashed from those who study all things d-o-g in their professions.

Bernie Rollin, PhD, distinguished professor of philosophy, animal science and biomedical sciences at Colorado State University, shares these thoughts about canine love:

“If anybody loves us, certainly our dogs do,” he says. “Despite the lack of a common language, dogs are capable of conveying love to us. These days, in the face of alienation and cynicism and with three out of five marriages ending in divorce, pets provide us a safe place to give and receive love in the face of this crazy society. Perhaps the better question to ask is, ‘How many people leave their dogs versus how many dogs leave their people?’”

Alan Beck, Sc.D., professor of animal ecology and director of the Center of the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, responds:

“If a dog is really dedicated to you because you are a source of food and comfort, does that really cheapen his love? I don’t think so. I think dogs feel dog love. Unfortunately, there are no objective tests. It will be a long time before we truly understand what’s going on between dogs and people.”

Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD, a certified animal behaviorist who specializes in animal behavior genetics and ethology, lives with a New Guinea Singing Dog named Pan at her farm home in Connecticut. This rare breed has not been selected genetically to be cooperative with humans and has a reputation for being not overly demonstrative in doling out affection to people. And that suits Moon-Fanelli just fine.

“Domestic dogs quickly learn what they must do to cooperate with us. How much further that evolves into love, I don’t know how to measure that,” she says, adding that the best dog-people bonds occur when people adopt dogs who are in sync with their personal preferences.

“I’m an introvert who likes my personal space,” Moon-Fanelli says. “The canines I have selected to be in my personal life, like Pan, behave more like cats. They are happy, but they are not clingy or trying to lick my face. Pan is not demonstrative with his love, but the respect we have for each other is there.”

Dogs show love in many ways. Clockwise from lower left are: Allyson Moore Poth with Franklin; Amy Shojai with Magic; Arden Moore with Chipper and Cleo; Shade owned by Shannon Parry Pingitore; Lola owned by Kristin Rode Watson. All images courtesy of owners.

Dogs show love in many ways. Clockwise from lower left are: Allyson Moore Poth with Franklin; Amy Shojai with Magic; Arden Moore with Chipper and Cleo; Shade owned by Shannon Parry Pingitore; Lola owned by Kristin Rode Watson. All images courtesy of owners.

Do Dogs Love People? Dog Owners Share Their Thoughts
So, how does your dog display canine love to you? And, does your dog regard you as No. 1? Here are some replies from my recent informal Facebook poll for Petcha:

Mark Winter, executive producer of Pet Life Radio, feels fortunate to share his home with a 6-year-old Havanese named Nicky.

“He follows me everywhere I go, from room to room. When I watch TV, he jumps on the couch and lies right up against me. When I wake up in the morning, he jumps right up on the bed to be the first one to say good morning!”

Shannon Parry Pingitore, who co-owns Carolina Pet Care Services in Fayetteville, North Carolina, says:

“Shade props his head on the arm of my chair and just looks at me with those sweet, almond eyes to say he loves me. And I just melt!”

Amy Shojai, a noted pet author from Sherman, Texas, says this about her German Shepherd Dog:

“Magic pushes as much of himself as will fit into my lap and arms when I’m sitting. When I’m standing, he does figure-8s through my legs. Him luvs me.”

Kristin Rode Watson posted a photo of her dog, Lola, sporting a wide grin and wrote:

“I rescued Lola from a high-kill shelter. She is standing on my Adirondack chair as I sit on it.”

Allyson Moore Poth shared a photo of her dog, Franklin, delivering face kisses to her while she was still in bed.

“As soon as our heads hit the pillow, Franklin jumps up to our pillow and gives us our nighttime ‘bath.’ He often kisses us, but this is different. He truly is grooming us, and we believe it’s a thank you for another wonderful day with our adopted boy.”

Jill Young Miller shares the connection between her elderly father and his dog, Lucky:

“When my 86-year-old father leaves his house without his nearly 12-year-old Shih Tzu, Lucky sits in the living room window in front of the drapes, watching until dad returns. In the house, Lucky follows him everywhere and naps when Dad naps.”

Catherine Lenox writes, “Timber mostly shows his affection by wanting to be near me all the time. I lovingly call him my ‘Velcro dog.’”

As for me, I’m doggone lucky to have a pair of 12-year-old rescues answering to the names of Chipper and Cleo. Cleo, a Terrier-Poodle mix, delights in cuddling on the couch with me. Chipper, a Husky-Golden Retriever mix, plops into a butt-in-the-air play bow and makes air snaps when she wants me to take a break from typing on the keyboard and engage in a friendly game of tug-of-war. How does your dog show love and affection to you?

Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Dogs