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How do I know if my dog loves me?
Does my dog like hugs?
You might have thought about the first question but possibly not the second. You may express your feelings for your canine companion by hugging him or her and take hugs for granted.
But do they like it? Read on.
I will also, with your permission, share a story about my two Bernese Mountain Dogs.
We all love our dogs to pieces, but does your dog love you? You may think so, but is it possible to actually tell if your dog loves you?
Well, they lick you, put a paw on you, put their head on your lap, nuzzle you – all signs of affection, surely?
Perhaps. But let’s see what the experts say.
Why do we love our dogs?
Yeah, silly question.
There are 1001 reasons why we love our dogs – they’re cute and cuddly and playful and have puppy dog eyes and are always pleased to see you and comfort you when you’re down, and puppy breath is so wonderful. Etc, etc, etc.
But why do we feel like this?
The love hormone
Scientists say it’s because of the hormone oxytocin which has been called the ‘love hormone’. It’s released when we look at and engage with infants and babies and make Goo Goo Ga Ga sounds.
Okay, you don’t have to make the sounds but it’s the hormone that makes us feel so loving and protective towards them. It’s also released when we look into each other’s eyes and helps us form a bond.
This hormone is also triggered when we look at and engage with our dog and it helps us bond with them, too.
Dogs have hormones, too
But more than that – dogs produce this hormone when they look at us!
You can read the science behind this here: Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds
Yes, it is a bit of a mouthful, but it is a Science report.
And here: How dogs stole our hearts
Wow! So dogs look at us as if we were babies?
Perhaps not quite, but the hormone and bonding influence are there.
The look of puppy love
Just to spell it out – when you and your dog look at each other, you both release oxytocin which makes you bond.
How cool is that?
The results of the investigation help explain many things. In particular, why dogs generally imbue us with a feel-good feeling and why they can have a calming effect on us and reduce our anxiety levels.
What the experts say
Dr. Brian Hare is one of the world’s foremost experts in canine cognition and dog behaviour. Although he wasn’t involved in the tests, he says this could explain what happens and help us better understand our relationship with dogs.
In particular, dogs can be helpful and reassuring companions for people with autism, and service dogs and therapy dogs provide beneficial assistance to people with many kinds of disability.
Is it just hormones, then?
So is this feeling just a hormonal reaction?
Scientifically, yes. Philosophically, who can truly say what love is?
And we’re not going there.
So, it’s difficult to say if dogs feel love the same way as we do. The nearest we can get is to imagine that they have the same feel-good feeling when they look at you as you do when you look at them.
And that ain’t bad, is it?
Who loves ya, baby?
I love cats, too. Honest. I love all animals, pets in particular but, yes, dogs are my favourite which is why this site is called TechForDogs and not ILoveCats.
We all know there’s a running battle between dog and cat owners about which is best. Some people have both which is great and it’s wonderful when cats and dogs get along, too.
Cats vs dogs
I’m not trying to provoke controversy but I would also like to draw your attention to a BBC 2 program called “Cats v Dogs: Which is Best?”
No spoilers but they each have their pros and cons!
You can Google the program but it’s not currently available for viewing so I won’t share a link here.
However, an article in The Telegraph reported on the program with the headline: “It’s finally proven – scientists test whether cats or dogs love us more”.
This is also about the oxytocin test and you might find the results interesting.
Other signs that your dog loves you
If we look for signs other than the chemical, we get into the realms of dog behaviour and psychology.
There is a wealth of dog behavioural research available so this should tell us something about how our dog feels.
If we use the word ‘happy’, ‘content’ or ‘relaxed’ rather than ‘love’ we can look for signs that your dog is all these things in your presence.
- Licking. This is a form of grooming and can be a semi-submissive sign as dogs, being pack and social animals, do this to their leader.
- Nosing. Nudging your arm or hand with their nose is another sign that they want contact, a rub – or perhaps just another treat.
- Puppy dog eyes. Their eyes are soft and relaxed. Narrow eyes (as with humans) can indicate fear and aggression and ‘white eye’, where you can see white corners in their eyes, show they are uncomfortable.
- Waggy tail. You’ve probably seen the full body wag which probably has nothing to do with the phrase “the tail is wadding the dog”. The dog wags their tail so vigorously, their whole body wags, too. This often happens when you come home from work and your dog is pleased to see you. If their tale is relaxed, they’re probably content. However, if the dog’s tail is tucked between their legs this is a sign of fear.
- Ears. All breeds have different types of ears but when a dog’s happy, their ears will be relaxed or alert. If their ears are flat against their head it indicates fear or apprehension.
- Mouth. If their mouth is relaxed and they show a lolling tongue they are happy. If they bare their teeth, obviously they’re not. Watch out for an open-mouthed pant. Unlike humans who sweat when hot, dogs release heat by panting so in hot weather make sure they are shaded and have plenty of water.
- Leaning. Has your dog ever leaned into you? Not all dogs do this. Sometimes it might just come and lean on you. Other times it may lean against you while you’re petting it. It’s happy.
Most dog owners should recognise these signs, particularly the negative ones, but many don’t.
Is my dog fearful?
Here’s an interest piece of research: Human Perception of Fear in Dogs Varies According to Experience with Dogs
It reveals that people who have never lived with a dog could only tell if a dog was fearful 30% of the time. This rose to 70% for dog professionals. Dog owners scored 60%.
Interestingly, all groups had a 90-93% success rate at telling if a dog was happy. Yay!
If you don’t know if your dog is fearful or not, how can you tell if they like what you do to them such as patting, petting, rubbing and hugging.
Dogs are dogs
The first thing to understand is that they are dogs – yes they are! – and not humans, and the things we do to show affection between ourselves do not necessarily translate into dog very well.
Humans are humans
As humans, we hug other humans to show that we like them and love them.
I think hugs are wonderful and I hug male and female friends alike, young and old. But some people are huggy people and some are not. I accept that and don’t try to force a hug on someone who doesn’t want one. It would be rude and presumptuous and in this overly-PC state it would be regarded as most inappropriate.
Interestingly, research indicates that children who are not shown much affection by their parents may be less healthy or happy when they grow up.
Children who don’t get hugged much may also develop a smaller emotional range.
Okay, so hugs are great between humans but what do dogs think about it?
Should you hug your dog?
One of the most controversial topics about dog behaviour to surface in recent years is whether your dog actually likes being hugged. Research suggests it doesn’t.
Here’s one report you may – or may not – want to read: Why dogs don’t like to be hugged
And here’s another: The Data Says “Don’t Hug the Dog!”
This is an absolute bummer for touchy-feely dog lovers everywhere. Including me.
Dogs don’t like hugs – are you sure?
But for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction (that’s Newton’s Third Law as you may reluctantly remember from school) and, as you might imagine, this assertion caused a furore among dog lovers.
Here’s one riposte from the same psychology magazine: Hugging a Dog Is Just Fine When Done With Great Care
And here’s another from Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist (CAAB): Dogs and Hugs, Revisited
So do dogs like hugs or not?
If you’ve bookmarked the above references for some (far off) future reading, I’ll do my best to summarise.
It’s all to do with the dog, the situation, the environment and the hugger. In this sense, dogs aren’t too different from us.
You probably wouldn’t like to be approached by a stranger in the street and hugged.
You probably wouldn’t appreciate a hug when you’re working out in the gym – or maybe any excuse for a break would be welcome. You probably wouldn’t want to be hugged when you’re just about to tuck into your favourite meal.
And you probably don’t appreciate the bear hug some friends give you to prove that they’re ‘really into hugs after all’.
Let’s translate this into dog.
It’s important to recognise that this will not apply to every dog. They’re all different, just as we are all different.
And, sadly, you need to accept that some dogs are just not huggy dogs. If you have a non-huggy dog, they will probably respond to pats and rubs and enjoy playtime so make the most of those things.
What is a hug?
Is that an odd question?
When we hug each other we put our arms around each other, particularly around each other’s neck and shoulders and to the other’s back, and squeeze.
Encircling your dog’s shoulders may make it feel constrained. Putting your dog’s head over your shoulder and encircling his or her legs and shoulders may be even more constraining, like the bear hug you get from certain people, particularly if you squeeze them.
Dogs don’t want a hug when…
If your dog is eating, he probably doesn’t want to be disturbed by a hug, even if he likes them.
Likewise, if you are out playing and your dog is running around chasing a ball or is otherwise very active, they probably don’t want to stop for a hug.
And to use our final example, even if your dog is fine with your hugs, they may not be fine with attempted hugs from strangers. In some cases they may bite.
The ultimate way to say no to hugs
Sadly, according to Google, around 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the USA each year. Around 800,000 receive medical attention. In the UK, over 7,000 people went to hospital with dog bites.
Dogs usually bite when they’re fearful and many bites are caused by people and, unfortunately, children trying to hug a dog. Although, of course, not all bites are the result of an attempted hug.
Ask before you hug
Before I approach a strange dog I always ask the owner if it’s okay to pat them. An odd one or two have said No for which I’m grateful, but many people see a friendly-looking dog and rush to pat or hug them. Often it’s fine. Sometimes it’s not.
So asking first is a good precaution (as well as good manners) for us all and an essential habit to teach your children, even if they live with a dog.
Of course, many people also get bitten by the family pet so it’s not just strange dogs that need to be treated with respect.
When to hug your dog
Although your dog may jump on your lap and lick you or nuzzle you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they want a hug. They may be showing affection, they may want your attention or a treat. But maybe they’d be happy to be hugged.
The best time to hug them is when they’re calm and relaxed.
You need to know your dog and know when it’s happy, not so happy and, indeed, fearful. See the checklist above.
How to tell if your dog likes hugs
So after all this, how can you tell if your dog likes being hugged or not?
Well, as you can’t usually see their face when you’re hugging them, ask someone to take a photo and check for sign of stress or fearfulness.
You will also have a good idea if your dog’s enjoying it or not if they struggle or try to escape your embrace!
Three types of dog hug reaction
There are three reactions your dog may have to a hug:
- They may love it in which case – hooray!
- They may tolerate it in which case try to reserve your hugs for special moments and use lots of petting most of the time.
- They may hate it in which case, try not to do it as it only causes them stress, but do pat and rub and do other things they like.
How to get your dog to like hugs
As with all training, slowly is the way to go. Rewarding a dog in return for a hug seems like cupboard lover and it’s doubtful that you would succeed in making your dog actually ‘like’ hugs although you may reach the ‘tolerate’ stage.
The best training, as always, is to start young and get your puppy used to hugs when they’re young.
A tale of two dogs
I’d like to tell you about Wesley, my first Bernese Mountain Dog.
After I lost Henry, my Golden Lab, I waited till we moved house before getting another dog. I’d done lots of research and wanted a Bernese. They are not particularly common in the UK but I found a recommended breeder and made the 560-mile round-trip to pick him up.
The breeder’s house was large with concrete garage-like buildings out back. This is where she kept the puppies. We opened the door and were greeted by about 8 balls of fur and I was handed my dog, Wesley.
He would have none of it. He hated being picked up and struggled to be put down again. This was not just on the journey back but at home, too. That was a bad sign.
To cut a long story short, if I had had more experience, I might have managed to make a better job of training him. They say a dog need to know who his pack leader is. Well to Wesley, it was him and he developed what can best be described as an aggressive streak.
Dog training school
We sent him to a dog behaviourist for a week and when he came back the behaviourist said he was a fine dog, slightly head strong but that was all. Quite biddable, he said. There was absolutely no change in Wesley’s behaviour towards us.
This time I found a breeder closer to home in a small country village. They invited me to visit when the puppies were a few weeks old.
There were four Bernese in the house – the mother, the grandfather and two cousins. The puppies were kept in a basket in the living room and – get this! – they invited the local village children to come and play with the puppies.
When I went next time to collect Monty, he had been thoroughly socialised with dogs, adults and children.
I spent a lot of time with Monty the first few months. We bonded immediately. He’d follow me around and sit under my desk when I was working (I worked from home which was very useful).
He liked hugs!
Every dog has their own personality
So this taught me a lesson – which you may already know.
Every dog has their own personality. Not just the little things they do that make you smile or laugh, but some can be headstrong and determined to be pack leader while others are more laid back and happy to go with the flow.
I think I had the two extremes with Wesley and Monty.
The social dog
However, I am also convinced that Wesley suffered from a lack of socialisation. Heck, he may well have been pack leader in his little isolated garage among his 7 brothers and sisters.
Early socialising is vital and the breeder needs to take responsibility for this. I know some dog breeders offer to take back any puppy that doesn’t ‘work out’ and I know people who have ‘sent back’ a dog because it was ‘difficult’ but many people will either struggle on with a poorly-socialised dog or do something worse.
The breeder needs to socialise the puppy before you collect it. After 8 weeks it may be too late.
(Aside: although this is not always the case. Murphy was a rescue dog. I have no idea what his background was or if he had been socialised – his background can’t have been very good as he had been abandoned – and it took a while for us to get to know each other. Perhaps I was lucky. I’m sure not all rescue dogs turn out so well.)
The socialised puppy
So if you’re thinking of buying a puppy, do visit the breeder first, do see where the puppies are kept and do ask what they do to socialise them.
Of course, I may have been unlucky with Wesley. One of his siblings might have been the biddable dog that he was not.
Does your dog love you?
So, does your dog love you? Yes, of course, even if they’re not the huggy type. You need to ask? 🙂
Although in Wesley’s case he probably loved me more as a member of his pack than as his leader.
But I still loved him very much.
I hope you enjoyed this article and found it interesting and useful.
If you have any thoughts about it or any experience of dogs loving you or hugging dogs, please leave a Comment below and I will reply as soon as I can.
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