You love your dog so much, but is the feeling mutual? Cognitive ethologist and author of “Canine Confidential,” Marc Bekoff explains. Following is the transcription from the video.
Your dog is the best. You go on long walks together, cuddle up on the couch, and enjoy sloppy kisses. You really love that pup. But … is there any way to know if your dog loves you back?
Well, first let’s address the bigger question: does your dog love anything? Can your dog love?
Marc Bekoff: “I think we can, in many ways, apply the same criteria to dogs as we do to human animals.”
Marc Bekoff spent a lifetime understanding animal minds. From coyotes and wolves to domestic dogs like yours, and he says that dogs probably think and feel similar to humans.
Marc Bekoff: “A lot of new research on neuroimaging using functional magnetic resonance imaging- fMRI’s, is showing that the same parts of dog brains and human brains light up when for example, they’re feeling jealous.”
So the difference between how your dog feels joy, and other emotions, and how you experience them, might be like the difference between you and another human. So dogs can likely experience what we’d think of as loving relationships and studies show that dogs are pretty good at building relationships with us, too.
One study found that dog brains are highly adapted to recognizing human faces and interpreting our social cues. So, maybe that’s how your dog always knows when you had a bad day.
But are those puppy dog eyes just for you or is your dog only pretending to love you for food?
Marc Bekoff: “That, I think, is really ridiculous. Are there dogs who use people for certain things? I’m sure there are, just like there are some people who use people for certain things. But i don’t think that would characterize the overall nature of dog-human relationships.”
So yes, your dog can love you!
But just because they can doesn’t automatically mean they do.
Marc Bekoff: “To say that they’re unconditional lovers is just ridiculous. Each dog is a unique individual and it’s not one-size-fits-all. Even the most brutally abused dogs I’ve met who took months to get them to even make eye contact with me have the capacity to love. But there’s just very good reasons why they don’t. In order for you to feel the love, you have to earn that trust.”
And like everything worth having in life, that trust will take time and work. But it can be done.
Marc Bekoff: “It’s sometimes just telling them they’re a good dog when they’ve done nothing. I did a study about the frequency with which people say no, stop that, versus “good dog.”
And, don’t worry, you’ll know once you’ve gotten to that special point in your relationship.
Marc Bekoff: “Do they follow you around, do they just hang out with you, not only when you’re feeding them or walking them. Do they seek you out? When you’re not there, is it clear that they miss you?
Oh yeah, that’s one happy dog. So can your dog love you? Absolutely.
Does your dog love you? Well, that’s on you.