Can Dogs Understand Affection?

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Introduction

So, we all love our pooches to the moon and back. They're our best friends, our cuddle bugs, and our sunshine on a cloudy day. But can our woofers really understand affection? Many owners out there wonder if their dogs can actually understand how much we love their smooshy little faces. 

Well, all you dog lovers out there, we have some good news! It turns out that our woofers actually can understand and feel emotions like affection, love, and excitement. So, knowing that, you'll also be happy to learn that there's a ton we can do to keep our dogs "feelin' the love" so that they're the happiest, healthiest, bestest pooch that they can be!

Signs Your Dog Understands Affection

Your dog is not going to feel some sort of emotion and think to themselves "hmmm... well I guess I'm feeling affectionate now." Humans don't even do that! That's not to say though, that dogs don't have the capacity to feel and show love and affection. And while we wish our woofers could chat with us, there are certain behaviors and signs that we can notice that will tell us without words that our doggos are feelin' the love and affection. 

A happy, loving dog is going to have a wagging tail. The happier they are, the harder and crazier the wag - in fact, their bodies may even start to shake with it! They may also let out a happy yip or bark, or even jump up on you, especially if they haven't seen you for a little bit. Also, don't be alarmed if you get some slobbery, wet kisses from your furry friend!

A loving dog also may offer up some snuggles. Dogs that love their owners just want to spend time with them. This may be hanging out on the couch while you're watching TV or sleeping with you when you're snug in your bed. Since dogs can literally hang out wherever they want, the fact that they're choosing to hang out with (and sometimes on top of) you, shows you how much they care. That means that if you want to show your dog some love and get some in return, invite your woofer up on the furniture for some snuggle time!

Dogs that love their owners also will play with them a lot. How they play depends on the breed of dog and how they were raised, but certain things that you may notice include play bowing, barking, and wagging their tails. The more they love you, the more they'll probably bounce around! You're their favorite person, so don't be surprised that a loving pooch can sometimes be a rambunctious one. 

In terms of body language, dogs that are "in love" or feeling affection, will look at you with soft, relaxed eyes. Like humans, dogs that are feeling the love will make and maintain eye contact with their owners. They'll be relaxed, and maybe even have their mouth open with their tongue hanging out - that's a pupper's version of a smile! Doggos that love their owners also react positively to the sound of their voice. Since they associate you with their happiness and feelings of love and affection, it's no surprise that your voice causes them to feel the same things!

Body Language

Your dog will show your some cues that they understand the affection you give them, including:
  • Barking
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Hugging
  • Stomach flip
  • Licking
  • Tongue hanging

Other Signs

Other signs that show your dog is feeling the love are:
  • Slobbery kisses
  • Trying to play with you
  • Barking or happy yipping
  • Eye contact with you
  • Snuggling

History Behind Dogs Feeling Affectionate Towards Their Owners

Dogs have been living and evolving with humans for as long as 38,000 years! That means that they've had a ton of time to learn to get to know us and eventually love us. It also means that they've picked up on some of our habits. 

For example, happy or loving people are likely to be vocal, and give out hugs or kisses. Dogs do the same! They may jump up on us to get closer to us, and cover us with kisses to show that they understand what that means and that they love us too. So the evolution and history of our furry friends has developed in a way that makes dogs really likely to show love and affection towards us as owners!

The Science Behind Affection in Dogs

Like us, scientists are dog lovers too. So it's not surprising that there are a ton of studies out there regarding man's best friend. A lot of these studies have focused on what dogs have the capability to both understand and feel. And what they've discovered may or may not surprise you, depending on how expressive your dog is with their emotions! 

Dog-loving scientists have discovered that dogs are actually like little humans. Kids around 2 and 1/2 have the capacity to feel things like love, suspicion, shyness, joy, anger, fear, disgust, affection, contentment, distress, and excitement. Dogs can feel all these things too! While they may express them differently from little humans, just think of your dog as a sort of toddler - anything a 2-and-1/2-year-old is able to think and feel is probably something your dog has the capacity to do as well.

Training Your Dog to Feel Affection

Like people, you can't exactly tell or train a dog to feel a certain way. But there are definitely things that we can do to make our dog's life happier and full of more love! Make sure to spend as much time with your dog as you can. 

The more time you spend with them, the deeper your bond will grow, and the more love they'll be able to feel and consequentially express. Try to also do things and activities you know they love. That may be as simple as a belly scratch, or can extend to a weekend hiking trip. The more you show your dog you love them and appreciate them, the more that they'll love and appreciate you!

How to React to Your Dog Needing Affection:

  • Time: the more time you spend with your dog, the happier and more loving they will be!
  • Playtime: doing an activity that they love will help your dog associate you with fun and entertainment. The more fun they think you are, the more affection they will be towards you!
  • Feed the Floof: dogs love food - this is a fact. They need it to survive, so if you're the one giving your pooch breakfast and dinner, the more they'll associate you with something that they love!
  • Let your doggo sleep with you: this may not work for everybody, but since our dogs can't tell us how much they love us, they have to show us. One of the ways that they do this is through snuggles. Studies have shown that dogs that are allowed to sleep with their owners have stronger bonds, and exhibit more signs and behaviors that indicate deep feelings of love.