Do Dogs Know You Love Them? Canine Cognition & the Love Hormone

How to show your pup some serious love in their language

Canine companions are some of our dearest loved ones, and dog lovers want to make sure they know it! We all know pups can be incredibly intuitive, but do dogs really know just how much we love them? 

The proof is in the science.

Canine cognition is the study of dogs’ brains and has shown that when you and your dog interact, a love hormone is released causing you to feel happier and more bonded as best friends. This hormone is called Oxytocin, and is the same chemical given off when humans stare at their babies! 

Oxytocin is released for both you and your dog when you pet them, play with them, or look at each other.

Studies have shown that dogs tend to lock eyes to show affection, so it’s safe to say your dog feels the love when you’re looking longingly at each other. 

Since dogs can’t exactly say “I know you love me and I love you too!” there are a few other ways animal lovers can be sure the message is clear.

How do I know if my dog feels loved?

Dogs are comfortable showing love when they feel loved themselves. When you see affectionate behaviors coming from pups, it’s an indicator that they feel safe and loved by their owners and are willing to show that same love back.

Some behaviors are clear indicators of puppy love. Dr. Brian Hare is an expert in canine cognition and says that if your dog stares at you for no reason, your furry friend is really hugging you with their eyes. How cute is that?! 

The classic tail wag is always an indicator of a happy pup, but another behavior that shows dogs know you love them is when they press or rub their bodies against your legs, or lay on your feet. This shows that your dog feels a sense of comfort and reassurance knowing you’re right beside them, and they certainly wouldn’t feel that if they didn’t also feel loved.

Herding their humans is another behavior that dogs sometimes exhibit to show family members are part of the ‘pack.’ When a dog is herding, they’re showing affection and care, and a desire to keep their family protected and in close proximity.

Next time you’re trying to get some privacy and Fido won’t leave you alone, remember it’s just because they love you.

How can I say “I love you” to my dog?

dog eating a treat near his human

Since dogs are naturally pack animals, they’re seeking a sense of belonging and acceptance from you—leader of the pack! Show love in ways they can understand and you’ll be sure to get some puppy lovin’ in return.

Quality time

There never seem to be enough hours in the day, but part of being a pet parent means making time for them on a regular basis. Dogs don’t need a new adventure every day of the week, but they do need your time and attention to feel bonded to you. 

Whether it’s walking in the park (or dog park), playing fetch, or snuggling up together on the couch with a good Netflix show, the number one way to let dogs know you love them is to simply spend time with them. 

PAW-sitive reinforcement 

dog getting a treat

Dogs thrive with routines and set expectations, and every pup wants to be a good boy or girl. During dog training, giving praise and making it clear when your dog is doing what you want and expect will reinforce the good behavior and strengthen the bond between you two.

Your best friend wants to make you happy, and they’ll definitely pick up on your emotions and tone in response to their behavior. 

Examples of positive reinforcement:

  • Giving a small treat
  • Verbal praise 
  • Petting 
  • Playtime or favorite toys

Dogs’ ability to interpret humans is based a lot on body language, and they recognize facial expressions just like people do. Dog owners can show some serious love just by making sure their pooch gets a big, genuine smile and a few belly rubs every day. Seriously, what do dogs love more than belly rubs?

Share the enthusiasm

family with a french bulldog

Have you ever seen a dog so happy as when its owner gets home from a long day or returns from a trip? Think about what a gift it is to have that unconditional love.

One of the most treasured dog behaviors is that they seem happy to see you no matter what. Being only human, it’s im-PAW-ssible to be as happy as a well-loved pup, but showing your dog the same enthusiasm and positive emotions when you see each other is a sign of affection they can really understand.

It can be tiring to get excited at the end of a long day, but your dog has likely been waiting for this moment for hours! Show them just how much it means to you that they’re always there when you get home.

Smile, make eye contact and don’t be afraid to use those silly nicknames every pet owner comes up with for their fur babies. Just be careful not to reinforce undesirable behaviors like jumping on people when they walk through the door.

Give physical affection

do dogs know you love them

Dogs really do make the best cuddle buddies, and physical touch is one of the main ways you can show your dog you love them. Take time to give a pat on the head when your best bud is being extra good. Scratch your dog’s ears or place a hand on their head when they get close to you. Displays of affection like this can go a long way.

If you’re usually a more strict dog parent when it comes to furniture, maybe even let them sleep in the bed once in a while. Your dog will jump at the opportunity to be close to you, and will probably melt like a pooch-sicle the minute they get to cuddle with you. The endorphins released will definitely be mutual.

Pamper your pooch 

Doesn’t everyone like surprises? Just like people, every dog loves to feel a little special now and then, and your pup will most certainly reward you with endless enthusiasm anytime you surprise them. 

Does your doggy LOVE getting in the water? Take them for an impromptu swim sometime and watch the tail wag. Pick up a fun new toy or some yummy new treats, and in return, you’re sure to get some serious excitement. 

If you’ve wondered whether or not your dog can tell you love them, you probably care enough that they definitely can. You and your dog have a special bond, and the more time you spend together the stronger it will grow. Keep showing your pup the love, and they’ll keep showing it right back.