Do dogs love their owners?

I’m sure this has been done before, but a couple of recent newspaper columns brought it to mind. A couple of days ago Chicago Trib columnist Eric Zorn wrote a letter about a woman who jumped into a lake to save her dog. He said (paraphrased), “Your dog doesn’t love you, and mine doesn’t love me either.” Citing John Katz (Bedlam Farm) as a source, he said dogs are social parasites and act as tho they love us because that has proven successful in getting us to feed and care for them.

Today’s paper had reply of sorts from another columnist, Jonas Greenburg (or something similar).

So I put it to you - do dogs love their owners, or do they merely act as tho they do? I am pretty firmly in the “parasite” camp. Which isn’t to say how dogs act towards their owners is a bad thing. Just not generally a wise move to attribute human emotions and motivations to different species.

That is a tough question. What one first has to do is define ‘love’ which is no easy task.

And, in retrospect, I’ve dated a few women who almost certainly fell under the ‘parasitic’ category.

In support of the notion that dogs ‘love’ there are cases where a dog has gone up against a much larger opponent such as a bear, wolf or mountain lion interceding itself between its owner and the attacker.

Now is this love or is this protection of its food provider?

I would hazard that it would be much easier to find a new provider than to defeat an overwhelming opponent. Therefore some sort of emotional bond may preempt basic self-preservation–much as a mother would shield her child from a similar attack rather than pursue self preservation options.

Pesse (Might be just barking up the wrong tree.) mist

I thought it was cats who didn’t like us, yet tolerated us, and dogs see us as leaders of the pack, and respect us for it?

Our dog just loves my wife. I feed the dog and take care of it, yet she is scared of me and has mixed emotions when I give her a treat. But unless there is food forthcoming she keeps her distance*.

Mrs Shibb, on the other hand, that dog just goes absolutely nuts when she’s around. If she’s in our room with the door closed, the dog sits outside the room and whimpers (not after lights out, just during waking hours thank Og). Wherever she goes she follows her around, then climbs up and lies next to her if she sits on the sofa.

Outdoors, if I take her for a walk, and we encounter another pet, she’ll go behind me and quake in fear. If Mrs Shibb has her out and they encounter the same animal, she will place herself between my wife and the other dog and growl and bark, protecting her.

Our kids also feed her and take care of her, but it’s only my wife that she acts this toward.

I’m not sure that it can technically be considered love, but it’s a reasonable facsimile.

*We adopted our dog after she was injured by a car. My suspicion is that someone similar looking to me abused her. She used to shake uncontrollably if I even got near her.

A well trained dog respects his owner as his pack leader. A dog who respects his pack leader would likely die for him no matter how many Milk-Bones were offered.

Call that love if you wish.

It may not be “wuv, true wuv” but whatever that thing is that my dog has for me I could use more of that from humans. Devotion? Loyalty? Admiration? He hangs on my every word. He will lick my hand if I let him. He will follow me anywhere and is always ready to do whatever I want (well, mostly), at any time. Sure he doesn’t have much in the way of a career outside of waiting on me but he is the number one member of my entourage and he takes that job seriously as far as I can tell. Is that love or is my dog just a highly specialized, animal sycophant? The only question is whether the word “love” covers the dog’s actions or if we need some other word for the purists to use. Maybe “dog love” - the kind of love only a dog can give.

Yes, I think it depends on what you consider “love.” It’s the same with kids. It’s not a reciprocal relationship–just one where one supplies something and the other benefits.

I see no reason why you would not call it “love”. As noted defining love is a difficult task. Nevertheless anyone who has had a dog knows they express a full range of recognizable emotions. Fear, anger, displeasure, joy, sadness and I swear humor. Humor might be anthropomorphizing but the rest are not as they are abundantly apparent.

As animals (humans included) why would anyone think nature programmed brains so very differently between species for these basic emotions? They all have their uses. Add to that dogs are quite intelligent (I have read somewhere around a three-year-old human in ability…roughly). So whatever the things are that add up to “love” for us humans almost certainly exists in dogs too.

This looks like love to me:

There is now a statue of the dog at that train station memorializing the dog.

Yes, I believe in most cases, a dog’s feelings towards it’s owner/pack leader are as close to ‘unconditional love’ as you’ll get, if not the same thing. To suggest dogs are merely parasitical is to overlook those dogs that are beaten and starved, and will still lick their masters hand. There might be other explanations for such behaviour, but it looks like excessive attachment to me, and that sounds like a good description of ‘love’.

Well, that takes things a tad further than I think I would. At some point in their development we can assume most kids develop human emotions similar to what their parents experience.

OTOH - I think it essentially does dogs - and other species - a disservice to anthropomorphize. By attributing human emotions to their dogs, people give insufficient credit to the marvel of the symbiotic relationship between 2 so different species.

BTW - have had at least one dog all of my adult life, and currently have 2 goldens. Yes, in shorthand I refer to them as providing unquestioning love, love on demand, etc., but I acknowledge that whatever motivates them is different from what I believe is going on between myself and my wife and kids.

Awww. That reminds me of Greyfriar’s Bobby.


Well, I was thinking I suppose more of young kids. Like from infancy up to maybe four or five. I don’t know, maybe younger. But when they’re really young, they do seem more animal-like for lack of a better word.

‘Love’, to me, implies the human emotion, therefore dogs can’t love in that sense. That’s not to say that I wish to claim some special provenance for human emotions vs. animal ones, both are, in my opinion, equally biological – but claiming that ‘love’ applies to a dog’s emotion towards its owner is just anthropomorphizing, and may well run afoul of the dog’s nature. In other words, the feelings a dog has toward his owner may well be of a different ‘spectrum’ than what we’d call ‘love’, and so to call it that would effectively be to engage in equivocation and loose possibly fine distinctions.

I went to pay homage to that statue when I visited Edinburgh last year. Some swine had put chips and gravy on his head! :mad:/:(/:smiley:

Since some people don’t feel love, I expect not all dogs do, but I believe lots of dogs do love their owners.

Are all the other recognizable emotions a dog expresses anthropomorphizing?

Yes, but there are a whole host of ‘human emotions’ that are attributed to dogs that are valid: respect, stress, fear, mistrust … why can’t we also apply ‘love’?

If it’s only because we can only define ‘love’ in human terms, than we are left holding the bag because we just don’t know what it is in dog terms … not being dogs.

That is to say, we have to work with what we know. If walks like a duck and all that.

Or, if humans and dogs experience similar emotions/reactions to stimuli, might it be more accurate to attribute both of them to the “lower” species?

Maybe an extreme example, but “fight or flight” is shared by humans and countless other species. And humans would associate many “emotions” with that particular situation. But I’m not sure it would be accurate to attribute those emotions to dogs when they similarly fight or flee.

I don’t think I’d be comfortable with using any of those in any other way than as reference shorthand – i.e. without the implication that it’s equivalent to the human emotion. I simply think we’re doing the dogs a disservice in trying to shoehorn their expressions into familiar schemes, because such miscategorizations may lead to unreasonable expectations towards them. In attributing to them human emotions, you’re implicitly burdening them with human behaviours (behaviours being at least to some extend expressions of emotions), and then some Rottweiler attacks a child and the whole breed is demonized, when in reality the dog was just being a dog, and the failure of not realizing this lies in the end with us.

If dogs can’t love, then there is no love in this world.

My dogs love me, there just isn’t any other word that comes close.

My dog growing up lived with my mother, who I only saw every other weekend. One day I came to my mom’s house and when I came in I ignored the dog because I was talking to my mom about something. The dog circled around near the couch, but I wasn’t paying attention to him. After another minute or so, he let out the most pitiful whine I’ve ever heard from an animal and actually had tears in his eyes. As soon as I gave him some attention he was happy. That could have either been love or jealousy.