Can Dogs Fall Out of Love With Their Owners?

We all know that our dogs love us. Science backs this fact up, but dog owners have always known it to be true, deep in their souls.

But as much as we like to believe that our dogs' love is unconditional, the most neurotic of pet owners are also plagued by worry that maybe, just maybe, it's...not. Can dogs fall out of love with their owners? Here's what you need to know if you ever worry that maybe your dog's love for you could fade.

Can dogs feel love and hate?

Dogs are actually capable of feeling a range of emotions—at least the basic ones. There is even some evidence that dogs can feel hate, or at least intense dislike.

According to Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy -- and Why They Matter, dogs can feel both love and hate.

As we've written before on Cuteness: "Bekoff says emotions are what cause animals, including humans, to behave in different ways in different situations. Those who agree with Bekoff say your dog's love is what causes him to wag his tail and lick your face when you come home. Your dog may hate -- or at least dislike -- your cat, who has scratched his nose at every opportunity for years, and that's why he growls at her when she crosses the room."

Girl holding her puppy Miniature Pinscher
credit: BenAkiba/iStock/GettyImages

Our dogs feel connected to us when we gaze into their eyes. In a study by researchers at several Japanese universities and published in the journal Science, dogs and their owners interacted and then their levels of oxytocin (also known as the "love hormone" and "cuddle hormone") were measured. No surprises here: Oxytocin levels rise for both humans and dogs when we play together.

What about the flip side, though: dog hatred? Here's the good news: Dogs don't actively hate things. Here's the bad news: They can definitely dislike things. If you notice your dog barking at, growling at, or turning away from something consistently, he probably does not like that thing.

Can dogs dislike humans?

labrador running aggressively
credit: blanscape/iStock/GettyImages

Sometimes dogs will meet humans they just don't seem to like. Researchers suggest that this is because of pheromones released by the disliked humans. Some humans give off a smell of fearfulness or nervousness that can put dogs off.

Dogs also sometimes act wary of humans in hats or uniforms, or who remind them of another human they've had a bad experience with. Of course, none of this would explain a dog suddenly falling out of love with an owner it was previously affectionate with.

Signs your dog doesn't like you:

Man and dog in quarrel.
credit: ChesiireCat/iStock/GettyImages

If your dog doesn't like you, the signs will be similar to those for anything the dog doesn't like:

  • Aggression
  • Barking
  • Growling
  • Biting
  • Turning or running away
  • Hiding

What could cause a dog to act like he doesn't like his owner?

If your dog used to love you and suddenly his feelings seem to have changed, it's probably not that he doesn't love you anymore. Here's the bad news though: There's a good chance that something is wrong if you notice a drastic change in how your dog is behaving.

One of the most likely culprits if you start to feel like your dog isn't loving you like he used to is thyroid disease. In dogs, hypothyroidism (inadequate hormone production) is much more common than hyperthyroidism (too much hormone production). If your dog is dealing with thyroid issues, you might notice that he becomes more fearful, irritable, anxious, and moody. These symptoms should go away when he starts treatment, but you'll need to see your vet.

Other causes of sudden aggression and behavior changes include injury and pain, other illnesses, and health issues associated with old age. The point is, you should see your vet if your dog is acting really differently toward you all of the sudden.

The good news is: your dog is unlikely to suddenly fall out of love with you, so don't lose sleep over it. If your dog suddenly begins acting drastically differently, take them in for a vet visit. And give them a little extra love.