Do Dogs Feel Love?

Do dogs feel love?My dog knows me, like REALLY knows me…..if I so much as tap my house slippers with my toe, he runs to the door; it’s time to go out. If I walk toward the living room chair, he jumps up; it’s time to sit together. If I go upstairs in the evening, he goes to his bed; the day is done. If I walk toward the kitchen counter at exactly 7:00am, he goes to his eating area; it’s time for breakfast. The list goes on and on, and half the time I swear he knows what I’m going to do before I even do, because dogs are just that intuitive when it comes to reading our body language.

But, many dog owners wonder… dogs feel love for us? Or, are they just in it for the food and other needs we supply for their basic survival?

Do You Always Believe What You Read?

You’ll see many writings claiming that dogs don’t have the capability to feel love for their human counterparts. This theory was based on a study that measured dog owners’ behaviors, actions, and perceived relationship with their dog against their dog’s behaviors and reactions toward them during a test setting. Without going into too much detail, the study concluded that what we perceive as our dog showing love toward us, is in fact, just our dog mirroring the way we respond to them. Since dogs are so highly attuned to social cues, their behavior toward us is more likely the result of them reciprocating since that is the behavior greeted with positive reinforcement from us.

Hmmm….okay, but unless someone has found a talking dog and engaged him on the subject of the dog-human bond, I’m not buying it. Where exactly is the concrete evidence? Did they really believe they could conclude their study just based on that? And I wasn’t the only skeptic.

With a little help from science perhaps we can clear up this fallacious misconception.

The Proof Is In The Science!Dog brain study with MRI

Now for the real stuff! Dr. Berns, a neurosurgeon at Emory University, was inspired after his favorite dog Newton passed away, to begin a study into what dogs think, and whether or not they love us. Emory University scientists used dogs trained to lie still during MRI scans in order to study their brain responses when presented with both familiar and unfamiliar human and dog scents. The result was what most dog owners expected all along, that the scent of the dog’s owner sparked the most activity in what is known as the “reward center” of the brain. This part of the brain was focused on because it is known for associating with positive expectations.

The study concluded that the human relationship is incredibly important to a dog and they value social bonds just like we do. MRI scans were proof that a dog’s brain reacts in many of the same ways that a human’s brain does. During a talk at TEDxAtlanta Dr. Emory Berns had this to say:

“One of the things we found is that the rewards system activates when a dog smells a familiar human, even when the human isn’t there,” he says. “It shows that dogs have representations of our identities that persist when we are not there.”
“When people ask me if dogs miss us when we are gone, I have to say yes, because we find evidence that they are remembering their humans.”

The 12 canine study participants are as pictured below:




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