Does my dog love me?

I love my dog (not like that, you perv :D). Her energy and earnestness are endearing, and her expressions (she’s a Boston Terrier) are very adorable. She is beholden to a daily routine of walks that keeps me regimented, and I appreciate her for that. I also enjoy playing fetch with her, or wrestling with her on the ground. I think of her truly as my “baby dog”.

And she seems to return the affection. When I sit on the couch or sleep at night, she curls up next to me. She wags her tail and jumps for joy when either I or my girlfriend come home. If I lay on the floor, she is almost certain to either greet me with a toy, a lick, or sit on me.

Yet I suspect that the cynical among the Dope will say that is not based on love, but rather the fact that I provide her food and walks. Sometimes I wonder myself if her interest in me isn’t merely predicated on the fact that I give her release from the house (if licking me to get me to wake in the morning doesn’t work, I do get a paw to the back of the head, and it isn’t exactly loving). Perhaps the joy she expresses when we come home from work is the same joy she expresses after getting medicine - it’s the anticipation of a treat.

I still contend, though, that my dog has a higher degree of appreciation for me. She considers me a “family member” in the same sense that I do her. Yes, she expects me to feed her and take her out, the same way I would expect any other member of my immediate family to provide care and comfort. But our relationship is more than that: we also play together, and we also “hang out” together.

Human’s wouldn’t have successfully domesticated animals if there wasn’t a degree of reciprocation. If your pet didn’t love you back, it never would have become domesticated to be a pet. It would have remained a work animal, or, barring that, food.

Well, dogs are social mammals like humans. It’s reasonable that they could have emotions similar if not identical to ours. And they certainly act like they like ( or dislike ) us. Whether what they feel is love, like, loyalty, or some similar emotion that doesn’t quite fit a human catagory isn’t really answerable at this point.

Maybe I’m just anthropomorphizing, but the thread in MPSIMS with the links to dogs going apeshit when their soldier owners come home after deployment suggests “yes”.

Dogs love us in their own way. It’s genuine as far as they’re concerned, and while it’s not as sophisticated and thought-out as human love, it doesn’t mean they won’t go to great personal lengths to protect you and your interests. Consider this: You and your dog are consistently misinterpreting the actions and status of the other and yet you have a great relationship. Dogs are great.

I heard recently that you can tell which one of your dog or your wife loves you the most. You simply lock both in the trunk of your car and see which one is happier to see you when you open it 2 hours later.

I forgot to add this after reading your first sentence, sorry.

No. It loves me. It’s only staying with you for the kids.

I’d say it entirely depends on how you want to define ‘love’. If you use a behavioural definition, with sufficiently general descriptors to apply both to human and dog behaviour, then sure, your dog loves you – and let’s face it, that’s essentially the definition everybody of us applies in everyday life: I know my girlfriend loves me because I conclude this from her behaviour.

If, however, you mean by ‘love’ the conscious experience of the feeling of loving another being, then that would first and foremost depend on whether or not dogs have conscious experience of anything at all, so the answer in that case might be a ‘no’; however, there’s currently no way to say for sure (though it looks like we might be getting there).

Of course, dog-love could be described in terms of various benefits it nets the dog, but then again, so could human-love; in the end, it’s your experience of either that matters.

That said, though, dogs and humans are different species, and I’m not sure one always does the dog a favour by trying to couch its behaviour in human terms – if nothing else, there seems to be a great potential for misunderstanding. Think of the old cats/dogs dichotomy: dogs growl when they’re angry, and wag their tails when they’re happy; cats do it more or less the other way round. If a dog were to try and approach a cat that, in his terms, seems ‘happy’, he might well end up with a few scratches across the nose, and the conviction that cats are bloody psychos.

I believe we were the ones who picked dogs because their emotions were somewhat similar to dogs, bred them to be even more similar. So we’ve been assigning human emotions to dogs for quite a long time.

Not a dog, but a cat.

One time my then-wife and I got back from a long vacation. We had had friends coming round daily to feed and play with our two-year-old cat. They provided the companionship and food that we normally did. The cat didn’t recognise us by smell when we walked in the door, and ingored us to go out exploring. However, when my ex called the cat’s name, we heard a plaintive meowing, then a huge amount of scampering activity as she scaled fences at high speed from five yards down, and leaped into her arms. The cat spent the next three hours in her arms, or following her round, purring, crying, and lying on her and kneading. That night she slept in between us on the bed until we got up, something she had never done before.

It’s certainly a reasonable facsimile of the human behaviour that we define as love, as far as I can tell. And I have a hunch that the feelings in humans that we define as love have a common root in early mammalian ancestors. So I say yes, it is love.

(BTW if you’re one of the few people on the Internet who’s never seen it before, grab a box of tissues and watch this video about Christian the Lion, with apologies for glurge.)

I wouldn’t call it ‘love’. More like ‘attachment’. A dog is not intelligent enough to have complex emotions like love. They absolutely get pleasure from contact with you, and I would describe a lot of their behaviors as affectionate.

My 3 dogs are attached to me by varying degrees (two are clingy types, one of those is extremely easily trained and the other is contrary, the oldest is a breed that is usually independant), but all three come to me for physical contact and seem to want to be in my presence as much as possible, food or no.

I do agree that dogs consider their owners pack members, and dogs will exhibit behaviors affectionate behaviors even with people who do not house them, feed them, or pet them, after all. My dogs are vvery affectionate with some of my friends, even those they see rarely.

Do humans experience “love”, or just a conditioned set of responses to others? How do you know? And if you apply those same criteria to dogs, what do you find?


I am actually thinking there’s no way of answering the question - until we define the human definition of “love”. I tend towards us sharing instinctive traits with mammals, with our layer of consciousness attributing meaning to, and justifying, those behaviours.

My affectionate ,want to be in my lap all the time, beagles love me. Until there is a squirrel, then they have no idea who I am.

Oh dear. I think I might have something in my eye. No, I was cutting onions, that’s it.

*Does my dog love me? *

Heh. Sounds like every other relationship I have with my family, too.

This I don’t get. Sure, the human expression of love is complex, but is the emotion itself? It seems to me that love, like jealousy or fear (which dogs do seem to experience), isn’t that complex a conscious feeling.

On further reflection, I was trying to discuss love in the familial sense, which is basically akin to attachment, so we aren’t really that far apart in terms of the “emotion” I was describing. I guess I just disagree on whether a pet like a dog has that level of sophistication, and I contend they do (which you seem to agree with, if we label it “attachment”).

If I get your point, I agree with it. I believe that people and dogs both are conditioned to feel a level of attachment to those in their “family” (i.e. pack), and the experience is similar to both.

I think you’re wrong, those videos demonstrate very well what love is, even after so many months apart. No grudge held for being left behind, just an exuberant display of pure joy in the reuniting. That is probably the purest form of love.

What a pity we don’t reciropcate so well. Wouldn’t be a need for so many animal shelters and disposals if we did.

Could apply to a lot of human beings. I bet you have met a few like that too.

A dog, or cat, is not going to have the self awareness to understand its emotions, and certainly won’t have the capacity to reason about them. But that isn’t to say that the emotions don’t exist. Emotions are a very deep seated part of us, and seems to come from pretty ancient parts of the brain. A neurophysiological argument might be that since we share those centres, and emotions in humans come from there, other animals are likely to share them too. We have high level and complex triggers for emotions. I can’t imagine a dog or a cat getting emotional (desire) over a car, a boat, a dress, or pair of shoes. Maybe the dog is smarter :smiley:

There is no doubt cats have a different world view to us. And I would imagine dogs do as well. But those forces that drive social interactions do seem to have some commonality.

I’d say yes. Emotions live love and anger are pretty low-level “reptilian brain” type of stuff. I’ve read stories about dogs showing great sacrifice and risking it all to help or get back to owners. (yeah, only anecdotes but still). It isn’t intellectual love, but it is still love.