Do Dogs Only Love Us Because We Feed Them?

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Anyone who has even had a dog knows the love you feel for your pup is like nothing else, but does your dog feel the same way? If so, how do dogs say, "I love you"? Of course, our dogs rely on us for food, but studies show that dogs do feel real love and affection for their owners.

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How do dogs say, "I love you"?
Image Credit: Elitsa Deykova/E+/GettyImages

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Canine emotional experience

Dogs can't talk, so of course, there is no way to know for certain the details of their emotional experience. While a dog's emotional experience is not as complex as a human's, many studies have shown that dogs are capable of emotional attachment and love.

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Scientists have studied the brain of dogs by taking magnetic resonance imaging scans while exposing them to a variety of scents. When dogs smell the scent of someone they know, the reward center of the brain lit up, similar to the way a human's brain lights up when seeing an image of a loved one. It is important to note that dogs had a stronger reaction when scenting a person they knew compared to other positive scents, including those of their canine friends.

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Similar studies have been conducted using sound, and they also showed a similar result. Scientists have also looked at a dog's brain chemistry. Oxytocin is the hormone generally associated with the feeling of love. The results indicate that when humans pet and cuddle their pups, oxytocin is produced in both the dog and human's brain.

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Dog emotion and food

It is well understood that dogs are generally highly motivated by food. This is why treats are such an effective training tool and a great option to consider when building a relationship with your pup, but your relationship with your dog is much more than him using you for food. After all, if you let a friend give your dog a treat, he isn't going to abandon you and follow your friend home at the end of the day.

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Relationships develop over time, and there are other techniques you should use in addition to food when figuring out how to make your dog love you. Take your time getting to know your dog and make sure he has a safe space, such as a kennel or bed in a quiet location, to rest and be alone.

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Then, make sure your interactions are positive and fun. If your dog loves to fetch, take time to play a game at the park or in your backyard. If he prefers to swim, take a trip to a park with a lake whenever you can so he can enjoy the water. Spend plenty of time with your pup and use positive reinforcement during your training sessions.

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How dogs show love

How do you know that your dog really loves you for something beyond mealtime? There are several behaviors for which you can look. Dogs can show their love by expressing joy when you return to the house, even if it's just a wag of the tail. They may stay with you by following you from room to room and resting in the same room where you settle.

Another surefire sign of love is a loving gaze. If your pup stares at you with a relaxed, devoted gaze, this is a sign of love.

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