“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves
himself.” – Josh Billings
People come in and out of your life. Friends, lovers, family, co-workers. Some of those relationships are amazing, but most of them just aren’t. Friends and lovers can betray you, family can disappoint you, co-workers may actually try to sabotage you. Think about it for a moment: Nearly every problem that you have right now can be traced back to people. Most of our relationships are transitory. People are, ultimately, unreliable.
Not so with dogs. When you have a dog, you will come home from work, to a fuzzy little bucket of love who is so glad you’re home, she can hardly contain herself. When you cook, your dog treats you like the greatest hunter ever. When you feed her, she treats you like a god. She will protect your family to her dying breath. Her heart beats for you. When you scratch her behind the ears or at the base of the tail, she will almost turn herself inside out for you.
And there is nothing you have ever done in your life to earn this kind of unquestioning loyalty.
The Root of the Behavior
Why do dogs treat us so well? Sadly, all too often, we have shown ourselves unworthy of this affection. We have beaten dogs, starved them, and left them outside in all kinds of weather. We have worked them to death, forced them to fight, we have even eaten them. Historically speaking, we have not been good companions for our dogs.
Fortunately for us, of course, dogs don’t have a sense of history. But even if they did, dogs wouldn’t hold it against us. Many of us have seen neglectful dog owners give their dogs treatment bordering on abuse, and yet their dogs live for the hope of a scrap of affection.
Cynics will tell you that a dog’s behavior is intended to get her more food and more treats. But scientists are showing that dogs are capable of affection, and do experience love. Dr. Gregory Berns, a neurologist, trained dogs to have MRIs. He found that dogs respond to photos of their humans in a way that has not been seen in non-primate mammals before. Additionally, Berns’ research found that different parts of the dog’s brain light up when they smell their owners, as opposed to other humans. Also using MRIs, researchers in Hungary found that the brains of dogs and humans respond to emotional sounds, such as someone laughing or crying, in similar ways. In 2015 Japanese researchers found that staring into your dog’s eyes causes a spike in oxytocin, the “love drug”, in the brain of both you and your dog. Other researchers have shown that dogs will seek out their people when they are afraid. This urge to find comfort in another species is unique to dogs and humans.
So is this proof that dogs love us? To a dog lover, yes. Of course, we don’t need any researcher to tell us that the soft glow we see in the eyes of our dogs comes from love. But the jury is still out, as far as science is concerned. Most scientists say that we can’t definitively prove that dogs experience love unless and until they can clearly say it. And, as of now, dogs can’t talk.
Encouraging the Behavior
You, as a dog lover, most likely believe that your dog is capable of loving you. While this may be up for debate to some, you are more focused on deepening your relationship, especially with a new dog. So how do you do that?
One of the best ways to build and encourage a relationship with your dog is to spend time with her. Go on long walks together, play with her, groom her, talk to her. Your dog may not understand all the words that you say, but she will enjoy your voice. Look deep into her soft eyes and realize that staring into the eyes is an aggressive behavior among dogs, but between dogs and humans, it’s a sign of respect and affection. Your dog is going against thousands of years of evolutionary habit to indulge you. You can spend a few minutes each day appreciating that.
Another important way to deepen your relationship with your dog is to act as her protector. When we think of dogs, we often think of them as OUR protectors. We think of watchdogs and guard dogs, and these are roles our dogs love to take. But you can also protect your dog. Make sure to stop people from touching her when she wants to be left alone. For instance, toddlers often treat a living dog like a stuffed animal. Make sure your dog doesn’t have to put up with tiny hands pulling her fingers. And make sure to comfort your dog when she is afraid. Your dog may be afraid of thunder. Let her cuddle up next to you, speak softly to her and make her feel safe.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Listen to your dog. Although she doesn’t speak with words, she will convey her meaning if you pay attention. If your dog is very nervous, she may not be up to training at that moment. Try to find out why she feels that way. Another time, you may find that your dog is so engrossed in an interesting scent that she wants to put your walk on pause. If it’s safe to do so, give her some time to examine whatever has caught her interest.
In the wild, canines live in packs. In the human world, you and your family are your dog’s pack. You should let your dog sleep with you, at least in your bedroom if not in your bed. Being allowed to sleep near the alpha is important to all canines, and to your dog, you are the alpha (or at least, you should be). Sharing your den is a great way to develop your relationship with your dog!
Above all, be patient and consistent with your dog. A dog can’t be well behaved if she doesn’t know the rules.
Your dog is going to give you unconditional love. You can’t prevent it. That is just what dogs do. There is only one thing we, as humans, can do about it: Try very hard to be worthy of their love. Try to be the person your dog thinks you are, and even if you fail, you will be a better person for it.