Do Our DOGS Really LOVE Us?

Love is a human emotion, and logically, we cannot be sure that animals 9like dogs) posess it. Like most dog owners, I am prone to anthropomorpy (sp?) about my favorite companion animal. He appears to like me…when I come home, he wags his tail and barks, and attempts to initiate play with me. Is this love?
Or is the dog actually imitating the behavior that he would exhibit towards his pack leader?
There are all kinds of canine behaviors which we humans are apt to interpret as love for us…take the dog who protects you: my dog will growl if a stranger touches me…is he really all that concerned about my safety?
What say you to this? Is the dog capable of something approximating human love, or are we just fooling ourselves?

Personally I think dogs do ‘love’. Of course, it is difficult to define just what love exactly is…even for humans. Likely it is a combination of feelings that when mushed together becomes somewhat of its own thing and we call that love.

Obviously dogs can’t outright tell us what they are feeling. While they do communicate with us and express their emotions we can’t delve in to the deeper meanings underlying those emotions (if there are any). Does your dogs apparent happiness stem from being pleased to see you or the notion in its mind that it might be feeding time?

I think there is anecdotal evidence to support the notin of what a dog feels being something more akin to love. Stories of the dog that, for years kept going to the train station to meet its owner even though the man had died at work never to return (the town erected a monument in memory of that dog). There are cases where an owner dies and the dog will not leave the dead person till they are found…possibly going for days without food. Nor do they eat their dead human (at least not always). For an animal you might figure it’d get the clue that its meal ticket is gone and seek out a new one eleswhere. There are plenty of stories of a dog putting itself in danger…clear enough danger the dog definitely has a clue what it is getting into…to protect its human.

This and all sorts of other, smaller behaviors, indicate to me that my dog has genuine feelings towards me and I would label those feelings love. Maybe the dog just mimics behaviors that are meaningless to it in order to get in good and get treats and such but I can’t be that cynical about it.

Dogs may not speak our language, but they certainly are capable of communicating their emotions to us, through behavior and body language. By observing dogs, it seems to me that they can indeed love humans, as well as other dogs. Of course we can’t know for sure what they are feeling; we can only know what they communicate to us. But for that matter, we can’t know for sure that other humans love us, but we certainly take that for granted.

Not human love, but the doggie version of it. They get pissed, too, or ours does, anyway, if left alone for too long. First she’ll greet you, and then, once the initial joy has been taken care of, she’ll sometimes start barking up a storm at you. Could be anthropomorphizing, but it looks for all the world to me like she’s yelling at us for leaving her alone.

Current thinking on the evolution of dogs suggests that their domestication was not as deliberate as many other animals: canines essentially learned to live off the scraps of early human society, and over time developed behaviors that helped them gain our good graces. So it may be that domesticated dogs learned, purely by rote, how to seem loving and pleasing to humans… as a survival strategy. Whether it’s currently something they actually can feel for us, or is instead an elaborate series of purely acted out instinctal behavior (if I bat my eyes and whimper suggestively, I get cookies. If I curl up with you in bed, I gain protection and medical care. If I loyally wait here everyday, I get praise… which is a sign of cookies) is pretty hard tell.

I heard a story on NPR (sorry, no cite) about a study comparing dogs’ and chimps’ abilities to anticipate and understand how a human household works. Dogs did this far better. A dog who acts like he or she loves us is going to be a lot more likely to be well fed and to reproduce. Like Poole said about HAL9000 - we can’t really tell if a dog loves us or not, but they’re programmed to seem that way.

I agree about the pack leader aspect. Our dog loves to howl with us, but he only does it if I do it first. He can tell me he wants to howl, very clearly, but he won’t start without me.

There’s a pretty good book on the subject of animals and love called * When Elephants Weep. * The book argues that emotions are not as a complex behavior as we’ve always believed, but may be part of the basic makeup of mammals. It argues that love is an extremely beneficial emotion, in that it encourages animals to take care and protect their young, rather than solely a reliance on instinct.

The author says that the scientific community has been a bit hostile to the idea that animals have emotions, and prefers to see animals as “furry robots” reacting to stimulus and funtioning on instinct alone, because it puts a comforting distance between man and the “lower” orders.

The book futher states that studies have shown that the same physiological responses that we have looking at our babies and call “love” are displayed in mammals as well.

The evidence in the book is mostly antecdotale, but the author insists that animals love and grieve as we do, only cannot communicate what they are feeling vocally.

it’s mostly us humans anthropomorphizing-

If animals really love the way we do --why do they hate their own offspring?

Almost all animals fight fiercely to protect their young for the first 2 or 3 months of life–but then totally ignore them after that. So how can we humans say that the animals “love” us the way we love other people? There are millions of stories about dogs who risk their lives to save their owner’s family from ,say, a burning building–but those same dogs don’t even acknowledge their own offspring as family members. We humans will risk our lives to save a child we hear screaming in a burning building, -but dogs only do so for the person who feeds them.
Is that “love” or is it plain old self-interest-- “saving the guy who feeds me, because I need him to keep feeding me in the future”?

I’m familiar with the theory that dogs don’t really love humans, that they’re little more than parasites who’ve evolved a set of behaviors to fool humans into giving them free food. This has become a very trendy theory in recent years.

But I don’t buy it.

First, the idea that canine love is phony MIGHT make sense if dogs only showed affection to people and never showed it to each other. But dogs (and their wild relatives) DO show affection to each other! So, when a dog shows affection for a human being, I’m inclined to think it’s sincere, not just a ploy.

Second (and FAR more importantly), the way we live in the modern U.S.A. is hardly typical of the way humans lived for most of history. Today, the average American is so rich, he can easily afford to squander food and money for frivolous things that don’t give him any real benefit. Today, a dog IS such a frivolous waste of food and money! I freely admit, my little fox-or-rat terrier doesn’t have to work to earn her keep! I don’t expect her to do very much except look adorable, show me a little affection, and refrain from pooping on my carpet! Most modern American dog owners share my view- they treat their dogs very well, and don’t expect much of practical value in return.

So… if you look ONLY at modern America, one would conclude that dogs have it made! In Darwinian terms, all a dog has to do is adopt a few cute mannerisms, and gullible humans attend to its every need.

But when I was ten or so, and stayed with my cousins on their farm in Ireland, I got to see a very different side to human-canine relations: the side that defined the relationship for thousands and thousands of years. I got to hear my cousins talk matter-of-factly about a litter of puppies they’d just drowned a week before my arrival! Now, to a relatively well-off city kid from New York, this seemed unforgivably brutal! But my cousins weren’t cruel, they were hard-headed and realistic. Their family wasn’t rich. They worked HARD on the farm, and barely scraped by. To them, a dog wasn’t a pet, he was a TOOL. They NEEDED a dog or two to round up the sheep and cattle, and the dogs they had did that job very well. But any more dogs than that would be a net drain on resources, food and money. My cousins couldn’t afford to feed more dogs than they needed to get their work done, so they killed the ones they didn’t need.

THAT, my friends, is the way human-canine relations worked until very recently. Small-time farmers don’t have much food to spare, and they are NOT about to share it with an animal just because it’s cute and cuddly. The same was true of ancient nomadic shepherds. And the same was true of cave men. If a cave man chose to share his food with dogs, it was NOT because they whimpered adorably or did cute tricks. It was because he’d made a rational decision that these dogs were of value to him. Dogs had talents (especially their keen noses) that made them useful when he and his friends went hunting. Later, when men learned to domesticate sheep, goats and cows, he found that dogs were ideally suited for herding them.

And believe me, if you’d ever seen a border collie at work in a field of sheep or cattle, you’d immediately drop the notion that those animals don’t earn their keep, and THEN some.

Back to modern reality. Again, a suburban house dog today doesn’t do a dang thing to earn his keep. But why hold that against dogs? Canine behavior and temperament haven’t changed, it’s human society that’s changed. It just so happens that, in modern America, VERY few humans have any real need for the services dogs are best suited for. Most of us don’t hunt any more, and most of us don’t keep livestock! So, if my dog chooses to spend most of her day lying on the couch, that’s not HER fault! It’s not as if I’ve given her anything more useful to do!

Let’s look at a different animal species in modern America. A suburban horse doesn’t do very much of value, does he? He’s likely to sit around a stable and wait for rich little white girls to come by and groom him for hours, petting him, pampering him, giving him apples and carrots and sugar cubes. A modern American horse does very little work and gets treated VERY well for his troubles. Doesn anyone conclude that HORSES are Darwinian con artists who’ve fooled humans into feeding them?

Of course not! Again, for thousands of years, horses worked VERY hard for people, and MORE than earned their keep. It just so happens that human society and technology have changed. Horses, like dogs, provided services that most humans just don’t NEED any more.

Dogs and horses were very valuable allies to humans for ages, and modern civilization wouldn’t have been possible without their contributions. Today, dogs and horses are mere luxuries fior most of us. Still, whether they do any useful work today or not, humans have been interacting with dogs and horses for so long, well, the species have gotten used to each other. They still enjoy interacting. And when they show affection for each other, I say it’s authentic.

Well, arguably the only reason we have concepts like love and grief are that we are able to communicate the feelings vocally.

I personally am with the “they do love us” theory, certainly as it applies to dogs, because I can leave a certain dog with a full food and water dish when I leave the house, and hear him crying at the door when I’m gone.

Rejection of grown offspring does not necessarily mean that there is not love.

In the wild, it is important that the young be driven from the parent’s territory after a certain age. They need to go out on their own to find mates which are not closely related, and need to learn how to support themselves. To keep the offspring from returning, often this rejection must be harsh, and the parent must “ignore” the pleas of their young to return “home.” Just because an animal parent must follow the natural order does not mean that love cannot be present.

It is also no true that animals will only risk themselves for members of their “pack.” Even inter-species resuces have been observed. These sort of things are not every-day occurances, but happen often enough to make some biologists wonder if the animals are displaying compassion.

Why assume that dogs’ behavior is some sort of elaborate ruse to fool us into thinking they experience love? The simpler explanation is that they do experience love. It could just as easily be argued that there are tangible rewards for human love (money, security, reproduction) yet we don’t assume that people are “faking it”. Why should we make that assumption for dogs? Just because we don’t share a verbal language with them?

I don’t quite get what you’re saying here. You can only have an emotion if you’re able to communicate it vocally?

Communication is not necessarily dependent on speaking ability. Animals communicate through body language, calls, dances, and guestures vocal calls. From the sub-sonic rumbles of elephants, locations of water holes and food can be conveyed over long distances.

Emotions can be displayed in a myriad of other fashions than vocalization. (Body language, caresses, and gifts are only a few.)Your dog is vocalizing when he cries at the door. He may not be speaking in words, but his meaning is clear, “Don’t go!”

Animals seem to use primarily silent means of expressing love or affection. Grooming, and caressing a mate conveys affection amongst the apes. Elephants stroke one another with their trunks. Lions lick one another’s ears. Other animals bring one another gifts of food or pretty objects. They nuzzle, cuddle, and pat one another. They may make purring sounds, chirps, or soft rumbles.

Grief is one of those emotions which often is easy to identify. Apes may moan and rock when they see the body of a dead loved one. Ape mothers may carry the body of their dead baby for days and refuse to eat. Others pat and hug the grieving ape, and bring them tasty foods.

Elephants caress the bones of dead friends and family for hours at a time, and may carry the bones with them. Fluid leaks from the temporal glands much like tears when an elephant is excited or upset.

Other creatures sigh, moan and mope, sometimes even starving themselves to death after a family member or mate dies.

Let’s say I go over to your house tomorrow, and ask you how you are. You say, “Fine,” but I can tell by your body language that you are sad. When you look at your mate, I might be able to see from your behaviour that you love that person. I could also see if you are happy, or angry just from looking at your body language, even without you saying a word.

So, no, I don’t think that emotions are dependent on language to express them, or that the only reason we have emotions is because we have that capability. In some cases, actions do “speak louder than words.”

No, what I am saying is that the ability to experience an emotion is separate from the ability to articulate that feeling. It is only our ability to name love that makes it an emotion. Otherwise, it’s just an experience without a name. I’m agreeing with you.

Indeed. I saw something on TV once that followed a chimpanzee tribe (troupe?). The matriarch of the clan died and one of her children (about the equivalent of an adolescent) refused to leave her side after she died. For awhile the other chimps hung around but eventually they had to move on and left the lone chimp and its dead mother behind. The chimp made a nest near its mother and stayed there till it died as well (from starvation I believe). I think it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say the chimp died of a broken heart.

Hey, chief, there are plenty of parents walking around today that don’t care for their own offspring.

Then i’m going to argue you don’t love your parents, you just do what they say so they will keep feeding you. You do stuff for your SO so you can get some, not for love or anything. Your children you had only for status, not because you love them. You take care of them so they don’t get taken away and you look bad. You’ve learned to act like you love them because it makes social interactions easier and you look better, but it is all a sham for sex, prestige, and food.
(not that i believe that argument, but it runs from yours)

Not to be flippant, but does it really matter? They act in ways that we interpret as love.

Human beings and dogs are both pack animals that are hierarchical and rely on cooperative strategies for food gathering. Therefore, both species have developed behaviors to show dominance and submission, favoritism, trust, affection, etc. I don’t know if dogs feel love or not. For that matter, I don’t know if other people feel love or not. I do know that both people and dogs act in ways that we have defined as ways that creatures in love act.

I agree with blowero. Certainly there are advantages for dogs who act like they love us, but wouldn’t it be easier for them to actually love us rather than just mimic the behavior?

As for humans loving their children longer than dogs love their puppies, maybe it’s a matter of it being more advantageous for humans to continue loving and caring for offspring who need so many more years of nurturing to reach reproductive age.

At least for women, by the time your children reach their reproductive years and begin having children of their own, your own fertility is declining. At some point, it may make more sense to spend your energy protecting and nurturing your grandchildren (which would be difficult if you didn’t still feel some affection for your own child) than to try to have new children of your own.

That’s not the case for dogs who can continue to reproduce after their own young are also having litters of their own. So humans may have evolved to love their offspring long after they reach sexual maturity and not so other animals whose offspring mature earlier.

It doesn’t mean dogs don’t love their puppies, just that dogs may not be programmed to continue loving them after they reach sexual maturity.

Also, aren’t dogs supposed to be more like juvenile rather than adult wolves? Certainly it makes sense for a juvenile wolf to encourage protection and care from their parents. I suppose they could do so by mimicking loving behavior. But again, it seems easier to actually love their parents rather than try to act like they do.

Chappachula: My landlord’s retriever had a pup and, two years later, is still friendly with that pup. In fact, they romp around together and pass through my yard looking for scraps. My mother had a cat that was friendly with one of its kittens after the kitten reached adulthood. Not all animal parents hate their offspring, nor, as Tars Tarkas has pointed out, do all human parents love their offspring.

I am convinced from having dogs for much of my life, from having helped break a horse, and from being kept by several cats, that the higher animals do feel emotions just as we do. Several years ago, when my female cat Tansy died, my tomcat Sir William grieved. How do I know? He would go out that summer only to do bathroom business. This from a cat that normally comes in only to eat during warm-weather months. Sometimes he would look at the door and mewl piteously. He returned to his normal behavior after I got another female cat. I watch them play together and I am convinced that they enjoy it.

I agree with Astorian. One of the reasons I keep two cats is effective, non-chemical pest control. I’m poor and live in an old farmhouse and those little beggars are not totally a luxury. They kill mice & rabbits, which are a boon to me. If I had a little more money, I would get a watchdog.

I read a very interesting article a while ago (sorry, it was in print so no link), which said that there was evidence that humans and dogs have actually evolved side-by-side as a symbiotic pair.

The genesis of the theory was the discovery of dog bones with human bones dating back to the time when humans out-competed Neanderthal.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of this subject is very limited, but from what I understand, it’s still not fully understood why Humans prevailed over Neanderthal. Neanderthal was bigger, stronger, and had a larger brain.

But according to this theory, Neanderthal wasn’t competing against man. He was competing against the man/dog symbiotic pair. Dogs became our ears, our noses, and our teeth. This in turn allowed us to hunt more effectively, travel long distance with protection from predators, detect enemies, etc. Over time, our brains could devote more of their capacity to abstract thought because we had dogs to enhance our senses. And dogs even helped us develop social/pack skills.

Now, I don’t know how accepted this theory is, but I must admit that at least for me, it has tremendous emotional appeal. My dog is staring at me as I type this, trying to goad me into giving her a treat. I like to think that dogs have helped us develop our brains, while we gave them a comfortable life and companionship.