Have you ever been going through something traumatic, and noticed that your dog seems to have an intuition about it? Maybe you’ve had a stressful day and are having a good cry, and your dog came over and put his head in your lap. Most dog owners have experienced how affectionate and caring canines can be. Oftentimes, it's almost as if they know what you're going through and come to your aid at just the right times. So what in the world makes your dog able to understand when you're feeling sad? What does this say about your dog's ability to perceive the world around itself?
The Root of the Behavior
It turns out that dogs actually have a fairly complex set of emotions that mimic a lot of the same feelings we see in human beings. Ideas like comfort, socialization, and love are all emotional concepts that your canine can experience as well. A group of researchers at a university in Atlanta, Georgia trained a group of dogs to regularly sit in and around an MRI machine in an attempt to take a peek inside their active minds. What they discovered is that just like people, there are specific parts of the canine brain that are connected to positive feelings and thoughts. This evidence continues to help expose the notion that dogs contain a true emotional and social intelligence, as well as the ability to empathize with emotions that we'd normally consider too "complex" for dogs. So what are some signs that your dog cares for you specifically?
A really easy way to see where you rank on their list of priorities is to see what they do immediately after being fed. It's part of a dog's DNA to make food its number one priority, so seeing what they place as second can be quite telling. Does your dog come over and give you attention or cuddles immediately after eating? Then good news, your dog thinks you're just great! Does your dog sleep with you at night? This is another great way to tell if your canine loves you. All dogs prefer staying within their perceived social circles, something that stems from their ever-existent pack mentality. Not only does staying close to you provide socialization, but they feel much more secure in these circumstances as well. If you have more animals on the bed at night, even better! To your dog, the "pack" can include any and all members of the household, human or otherwise.
Encouraging the Behavior
Your dog is never going to show love if you don't love them first. As outlined above, dogs are capable of being finely in tune with their owners' emotions. So it makes sense that they're also more often than not following your lead. So showering your dog with affection while not only make them feel secure, it may actually make them act more affectionate towards you. So what kind of physical behaviors can you make towards your dog to help them be more affectionate towards you? A lot of vets will recommend eye contact as a great first step.
Beyond this, it becomes more important to pay attention your canine's behaviors. If they want to show affection, they will do things like regularly check in with you or purposefully seek out affection. They will more than likely be excited to see you when you arrive home after a day at work. The easiest way to perceive your dog's love for you is their general demeanor when you are around them. A dog who feels positive emotions for their owner will generally seem quite comfortable and calm around them. They may spend a lot of time close to you, just "lounging around." Rest assured, this is a really positive sign.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Something to always keep in mind regarding your dog's behaviors is that their general health dictates their happiness. A lot of times, these problems won't have obvious signs outside of a general lethargy. This is why it's so vitally important to keep a close eye on your dog's behavior. If you see a limp or perhaps frequent whimpering, it might be time for a trip to the vet. Remember also that if you rescued an older dog via adoption, they've had a life full of experiences that you aren't aware of. It's important to remember this if your rescue has a hard time acclimating to his new conditions. Give them time, and eventually they will accept you as part of the pack as well.
Dogs are always going to be a complex batch of feelings, instincts, and biology. But one of the better parts of that equation is the love and affection that they show for you. Make sure to let your dog know you love them as well, otherwise it might make for a "ruff" ride!