But when that dog stares up at you adoringly with such big, brown eyes, are they truly 'in love' with you, or is it the burger in your hand they want?
Okay, so perhaps it's not so difficult to answer when there's food involved (food first, love second). But this raises some hugely interesting questions about the emotions that dogs feel, their relationship with people - and their owner, in particular, and, indeed, if dogs can fake love in order to get what they want.
In short, scientists do believe dogs are capable of love. So if this is the case, it's not a huge leap to imagine that dogs could also fake that emotion...especially when the pay off is a tasty piece of burger.
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Signs a Dog is Faking Love
Anyhow, a dog shows love in a variety of ways depending on their personality and their social confidence. Most dogs demonstrate love by their wanting to be in the company of their owner. Of course, this could also be interpreted as neediness or insecurity, but the difference is in the dog's demeanor when with the person.
A dog that loves their owner takes pleasure in their presence and greets them with unbridled enthusiasm when they return after a short absence. This is often demonstrated by frantic tail wagging, attempting to lick the owner, and general excited jumping up.
These displays may vary depending on the age of the dog and their previous experience. If the dog is elderly, then a loving greeting may be abbreviated to a slow wag of the tail, rather than the full-on jumping up or zoomies a puppy.
When a dog fakes love, there may be signs of conflict in the greeting. For example, the dog may get up to greet the owner but slink over rather than run, as if unsure of their reception.
- Head tilting
- Jumping up
- Wag tail
- Raise ears
- Head turned away
- Submissive urination
- Slinking over
- Signs of inner conflict such as lip licking or yawning
The History of Canine Emotions
Whilst this is undoubtedly true, man's relationship with dogs goes much deeper than that. If this mutually beneficial treaty was the sole explanation for the success of dogs, then why would we have bred pet dogs and breeds of dogs that serve little useful purpose other than being companions?
The truth is that dogs see something in us, which makes them want to please us. Our happiness is their happiness, which sounds pretty close to a definition of love!
The Science of Dogs and Love
Happily, there is plenty of scientific evidence stacking up that proves dogs do indeed feel the emotion we call love.
The first proof is oxytocin, the so-called 'love hormone'. When a nursing mother looks at her baby, oxytocin is released into her bloodstream. Amongst other functions, oxytocin promotes bonding between mother and child and creates those warm, fuzzy feelings we associate with love. What has this to do with dogs?
Scientists have measured the oxytocin levels in both owners and their pets. They found not only that an owner's oxytocin levels rise when they see their pet, but so does the dog's. This would indicate that both species experience similar emotions and respond in a similar way to the sight of each other.
More evidence is provided by recent studies using MRI scans of the brain of conscious dogs. These dogs were trained to lie still inside an MRI scanner, without any chemical restraint. Their brain activity was then monitored under a range of different conditions, such as the owner speaking to the dog or the owner offering the dog a treat.
The results showed that different parts of the dog's brain lit up, depending on the activity. Indeed, most importantly, when the owner offered a treat, parts of the brain linked to food and appetite lit up. However, when the only reward was the owner's attention, parts linked to love and affection activated.
This is proof-positive that dogs can love for love's sake and not just out of cupboard love.
Training a Dog to Pretend to Love
Yes, it is.
This is done by first identifying the actions which make the dog appear loving, and then, secondly, putting those actions on cue. For example, a dog may appear loving by placing their paw attentively on to a person's hand. Human nature being what it is, we interpret such an intimate gesture as a 'loving touch', even though the dog is performing a trick.
This action is fairly easy to teach and within the grasp of most dogs.
Using the theory of reward-based training, you praise the dog each time they show the desired behavior (which, in this case, is resting a paw on your hand.)
Start by sitting on a level with the dog and gently placing their paw on your hand. Then, praise the dog and give a treat. Keep repeating this. Most dogs quickly learn that placing the paw on your hand is an easy way to get attention and a treat, and they may well initiate this action themself.
Once the dog anticipates what's wanted by lifting the paw unprompted by you, then give lots of praise and a treat. When the dog is regularly offering up a paw, add a cue word such as "Love". Say the cue word at the precise moment the dog starts to lift the paw. This helps them understand which action is being rewarded and that it has a name.
The final stage in training is to use the cue word "Love" to get the dog to lift their paw from a resting position and place it on your hand. Job done!
How to React to Your Dog Faking Love:
Don't assume all attention is for selfish pursuits.
Realize that dog love sometimes equates with happiness.