We all know dogs adore their humans, but do dogs feel love toward other dogs? Though canine romance doesn't necessarily play out like it did for Lady and the Tramp, our good boys and girls can fall in love with us, each other, and other animals, according to some experts. Here's how to tell if your pup is totally smitten.
Do dogs have feelings?
As dog owners, we constantly want to know what our dogs are thinking — even when they're sleeping. Experts find it difficult to study dogs' emotions for a number of reasons. For starters, dogs and humans don't speak the same language. Yes, pooches have different barks to express a variety of feelings, but researchers and owners can only guess at what exactly dogs are trying to say.
That said, experts believe dogs are capable of experiencing many of the same emotions as humans even though they don't have the ability to express their feelings in our language. Dogs may not have a word for love, but they exhibit a certain set of behaviors that basically mean the same thing.
"If you define love as a long-term commitment — meaning they seek one another out when they’re apart, they’re happy when they’re reunited, they protect one another, they feed one another, they raise their children together — then, of course, non-human animals love each other," Marc Bekoff, PhD, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, told Vice.
In a 2017 interview with the New York Times, Gregory Berns, PhD, MD, a professor at Emory University, recounted an experiment he and his colleagues conducted to test whether dogs love us more than food. Berns and his team monitored dogs' brain activity when they gave the pooch either a piece of hot dog or praise. After looking at the dogs' reward centers in their brains, the researchers concluded that the dogs responded about the same in either the food or praise conditions. From that, they deduced that our pups love us at least as much as they enjoy food.
Can dogs fall in love?
So, we know that pups can develop strong bonds with their owners and with other canines, but can dogs fall in love? Experts think dogs are capable of "falling in love" in a way, though it doesn't look anything like a big-screen rom-com.
According to a May 2014 study published in the journal PNAS, positive reactions betweens dogs and humans or other dogs triggered a release of oxytocin in dogs' brains. Oxytocin is known as the "love hormone," and it plays an important role not only in social bonding.
Even though dogs don't really fall into "romantic" love, they still can form deep and lasting bonds not only with their owners but also their fellow dogs. This could explain why your dog has a preference for another puppy at the dog park — his or her "best friend." And this meaningful relationship isn't limited to just other dogs. Some pooches prefer the company of their feline friends, so you can put to rest those stereotypes that cats and dogs are mortal enemies.
How to Tell If Your Dog Loves You
Now that you know how dogs express their love for other creatures, you're probably wondering how you can tell whether your dog loves you. When your puppy comes running up to you with slobbery kisses, that's a good sign that he or she basically worships the ground you walk on. But there are a lot of more subtle signs that your dog cares about you. To know whether your dog loves you, keep an eye out for any of these behaviors.
- Getting excited when you come home
- Meaningful eye contact
- Wanting to be around you
- Yawning when you're around (when dogs witness someone they're bonded to yawn, they often yawn in response)
We already suspected our puppy pals loved us, but it's still reassuring to know we're more than just food-bringers for our furry friends. And now that you know your pooch loves you, why not give the good boy or girl in your life a well-deserved belly rub?