I love my dog. She is one of the best things in my life, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to keep her healthy and happy.
Showing our dogs how much they mean to you can be tricky though. And if they don’t respond as you expect, you may wonder, “Does my dog love me?”
If you haven’t found the answer, rest assured that dogs have ways to communicate their love that surpass the need for words. Just as we humans express love in various ways, so do dogs.
Though your pooch can’t say “I love you,” actions speak louder than words. Like with their enthusiastic tail wagging whenever you walk through the door. Or their constant need for physical touch, never missing an opportunity to cuddle with you on the couch or to nuzzle into your hands for a comforting pet.
These are all signs of your dog expressing their undying love. But how do we reciprocate our love for them in ways they can easily understand?
How to Tell Your Dog You Love Them in Ways They Understand
Here are some ways to express your love to your dog in ways they’ll understand.
1. Rub Their Ears
Instead of patting your dog on the top of his head, try giving them a gentle rub behind the ears. Watch their reaction—they will most likely melt into a ball of doggy happiness.
This is because rubbing a dog’s ears stimulates the release of endorphins—hormones that relieve pain and bring on feelings of pleasure.
2. Lean on Them
Has your dog ever pressed up against your legs or leaned onto you while you were sitting together? This is one way that dogs seek affection, kind of like a doggie hug. It’s also a sign of deep trust.
You can “hug” them back by doing the same thing.
3. Gaze Softly Into Their Eyes
One way to show your pup you love them is through eye contact. Take a quiet moment, speak softly to them while petting them gently, and just gaze into their eyes.
Try raising your eyebrows (especially the left one). Your dog will view this as a display of affection. This action will naturally increase your dog’s level of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that aids in bonding.
A word of caution: maintain direct eye contact only with a dog who knows and trusts you. A dog unfamiliar with you is more likely to interpret this gesture as a threat or a challenge.
4. Play Together
Spend some time every day doing something that your pooch enjoys. Try teaching them a new trick or practicing ones they already know.
Take them to the backyard or dog park for a game of frisbee or fetch with their favorite toy. (This is my favorite dog bonding toy.) Not only will your dog feel loved, but the exercise will help to keep them (and you) healthy.
If you get tired, hand them a squeaky toy. This will help them entertain themselves. Make your play dates with your furry BFF convenient for both of you.
Not all dogs enjoy hugs, but most love cuddling. Canines are pack animals, and close contact makes them feel safe and secure. Allowing your dog to sleep with you is the ultimate display of trust and affection since this is when you are the most vulnerable.
However, even if you’d prefer to keep your bed dog-free, you can still create daily opportunities to show your dog you love them by snuggling up on the couch or in a cozy corner with them on the floor. They’ll be sure to get your message.
Don’t be confused with hugging and snuggling (or cuddling). The words “snuggle” and “hug” have slightly different meanings, but they both refer to showing affection. However, hugging can be more intimidating for dogs because when you hug, you embrace someone with two arms. And it may involve wrapping your arms around the neck or body, which dogs would potentially find threatening or at the very least, uncomfortable or undesirable.
6. Talk to Your Dog
It’s ok to use your “dog voice!” Dogs love being talked to, and they love it when you use their name. Some studies show dogs may understand hundreds of words and phrases. Besides, when you talk to your dog in a caring and encouraging tone, they respond to such positive reinforcement.
So go ahead and tell your dog about your day and talk to them about what you’re doing or what you’ll do together. See how many words your dog knows! Positive reinforcement through words can also promote good behavior.
Baby talk with your dog is more than just adorable; it’s effective too! A study published in Animal Cognition revealed that using a natural, playful tone (like the one used when speaking to babies) combined with words relevant to dogs, can possibly grab dogs’ attention more effectively and help strengthen the bond between them and their humans. However, if you’re not a fan of baby talk, no worries, just use your normal tone.
7. Go for Walks Together
When you’re home, you may be snuggling with your dog, but it’s unlikely you’re sharing experiences together. You might be watching TV or scrolling on your phone, things your dog could care less about.
But when you’re walking together, you’re sharing the experience, all the sights, sounds, and smells that accompany the walk. Although your dog can smell a lot more than you do!
Enjoying this shared experience can bring you closer together and forge a strong bond.
8. Let Them Kiss You
Licking is their way of showing affection. So when you accept this gift of love, you show your dog how much you love them! Licking releases endorphins and dopamine, making your dog feel calm and secure.
Things to Avoid When Showing Your Dog You Love Them
In essence, showing affection to your dog involves understanding their world and respecting their boundaries. Keep in mind that while your intentions are pure, certain things may not translate the same way in dog language. Reading their cues accurately and adjusting your actions accordingly fosters a loving environment for your four-legged friend.
Here are expressions of affection that your dog may find uncomfortable or undesirable or may be bad for them in the long run.
Even though I know that most dogs aren’t the biggest fans of big hugs, I sometimes have to fight the urge to give Tulip a loving squeeze. After all, hugging is one of the most natural ways for humans to show affection, including furry friends. However, for many of our canine companions, a hug from their pet parents is unwelcome or even threatening, especially if they feel trapped.
Additionally, eye contact while hugging can be threatening to many dogs. Even though your dog feels like part of the family, they may still lash out and bite if they feel threatened by close contact
Many pet parents are surprised to learn that their beloved pets are merely tolerating these embraces, with most dogs showing signs of stress when hugged. Sometimes, communication mishaps occur between us and our pets due to our inability to fully comprehend their communication methods. Learning to decipher their unique body language can significantly enhance our bond and elevate their happiness.
It’s easier for everyone to slowly accustom your dog to hugs, linking the action with rewards or treats to foster a positive association. This is vital if you want your pet to be a therapy dog. However, other dog-friendly expressions of love, such as a scratch behind the ears or games you play together, may be a more welcome substitute for hugs. This way, you’re respecting your furry family members’ boundaries while also preserving the warm bond between you.
While treats are a great way to show your dog attention, especially during training sessions, they should be limited. Some dog parents make the mistake of thinking that the best way to their dog’s heart is through their stomach. Don’t get me wrong—treats and goodies have their place, but too many of them can easily lead to weight gain and all of the health issues that come with it.
Understanding Dog Language
Sometimes, we and our four-legged buddies experience a few hiccups in communication, mainly because we don’tfully understand what they’re trying to tell us. Remember, while they can’t use words to express how they feel, our dogs are pretty observant, relying on our nonverbal signals to make sense of their world. Learning to read their unique canine body language can definitely boost our bond and make their tails wag a little happier!
It’s a misconception that when dogs wag their tails, they are happy. A wagging tail can mean many things. You might be surprised to know that your furry friend’s tail is its very own little language. According to Dr. Ryan Llera at VCA Animal Hospitals, your dog’s tail position can communicate many things:
- Raised tail. It could mean your dog is alert and ready to face what drew their interest.
- Arching over their back. They might be feeling aggressive.
- Lowered tail. It’s your pet’s way of showing submission or that they’re scared.
- Straight out. They’re probably investigating a new interesting scent or sound.
- Neutral position or slightly raised and wagging. Your buddy is relaxed or happy!
Remember, though, that some breeds of dog have naturally curled tails that coil over their backs, like the Samoyeds, Pugs, and Pomeranians. Meanwhile, others like Greyhounds and Whippets have tails that naturally curl under their bellies, so consider your dog’s natural tail position based on their dominant breed type when reading into their tail position.
The speed of the wag can tell you even more. A fast wag can signal high excitement, a slight wag could mean they’re feeling timid, and a wag with some hip wriggling, well, that’s the canine version of your dog giving you a super-friendly hello! Although, be watchful, because a very fast wag with the tail upright could also mean your pooch is about to become threatening—so remember, a wagging tail isn’t always a friendly one!
Dogs yawn for a bunch of different reasons, not just because they’re tired like us humans. Sometimes yawning is a physical thing that helps stimulate their nervous system or cool their brains, writes Dr. Manetter Kohler in “Why Do Dogs Yawn?” on PetMD. They usually yawn when they’re transitioning from one state to another, like from sleep to wakefulness or from being bored to being alert.
Here’s a fun fact: dogs also yawn to communicate emotional feelings. If a yawn pops out when they’re in a stressful situation, maybe at the veterinary clinic, during a household argument, being hugged too tightly, or being approached by a stranger, they’re trying to calm themselves down. It’s like their version of taking deep breaths!
Plus, dogs even yawn to show they want to avoid conflicts or signal that they’re peaceful. Ever noticed how contagious yawning is? Dogs catch that too, especially from their favorite humans. It’s a sweet way they empathize with us!
If you notice your pup yawning a lot and showing signs they’re not comfortable, they’re likely feeling anxious or stressed. It’s like they’re telling you, “Hey, human, I need a break!” In that case, helping them avoid stressful situations or offering a safe, quiet space for them can be super helpful. Isn’t it amazing how much they can say without using words?
Dogs love to lick, and their reasons for doing so can vary widely. One of the most common motivations is affection and social bonding. Your dog’s cheeky face-licking greeting when you come home from work is likely their quirky way of saying “You’re the best!” They’re expressing love and delight at your presence.
Licking also serves as a grooming ritual for dogs, helping them to stay clean. And don’t forget their curiosity too. Dogs have a keen sense of smell and taste, so that exploratory lick on an object or post-meal lick on your hand is likely your dog’s taste-based way of understanding their surroundings.
Also, licking can sometimes be a peace offering. Dogs who feel submissive or threatened might lick as a conciliatory gesture. Additionally, excessive licking might indicate possible medical issues, such as allergies or anxiety.
Being aware of the context is crucial in interpreting these canine linguistics. While licking is generally harmless, if it bothers you or seems linked to a health problem, don’t hesitate to talk to a veterinarian for expert advice. So whether as a sign of love or exploration, your dog’s licks are as fascinating as they are varied!
Does My Dog Know I Love Them?
The short answer is “probably.” But only if you know how to speak your dog language. As mentioned, hugs, kisses, and treats don’t necessarily translate to love in a dog’s native language.
Dogs are pack animals, and they rely on their pack’s queues for signs of approval and love. They do this primarily through body language, physical touch, and group activities like hunting and exercising.
One of the best things about dogs is how well they know their favorite people. They can tell when we’re stressed out and when we’re calm and happy. And we can be sure that our voices, body language, and actions communicate to them how much they mean to us.
The bond between humans and dogs has huge benefits for people and animals. My ebook explains how bonding with your dog can improve your mind, body, spirit, and community. Click here to download your free copy.