Being a responsible pet owner is hard work. It’s more than just purchasing pups or trading kittens. It requires sacrifice and, more importantly, Love, and dogs have a language all their own when it comes to expressing affection. Despite their inability to articulate words as humans do, their repertoire of gestures, postures, and vocalizations speaks volumes about their emotional states.
Unfortunately, many people can sometimes misinterpret these signs, leading to misunderstandings about how dogs communicate their affection. Therefore, learning to ‘speak dog’ is essential to build a deeper, more profound, and more empathetic bond with your furry friend.
Behaviors That Show Affection in Dogs
Many behaviors indicate a dog’s affection for humans:
While a wagging tail can express various emotions, specific types of seat wagging often indicate happiness or affection. For example, research shows that dogs often wag their tails more to the right when they’re happy or excited to see their owner.
This behavior has roots in puppyhood, where pups lick their mothers as a sign of Love or to request food. In addition, adult dogs may lick their owners as a sign of affection, recognizing them as part of their ‘pack.’
Following You Around
Dogs are packed animals, and your dog following you around is its way of sticking close to its ‘pack leader.’ This behavior is often a sign of trust and affection.
In the dog world, prolonged eye contact can signify aggression. However, with their trusted humans, dogs often maintain gentle eye contact, which can trigger the release of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, in the dog and its owner.
Sleeping Next to Their Human
If your dog prefers to sleep next to you, it’s likely a sign of affection. Dogs are most vulnerable when they sleep, so choosing to sleep near you shows a high level of trust.
The Science Behind Affection in Dogs
The scientific explanation for these behaviors lies in ethology, the study of animal behavior. For instance, tail wagging is linked to dogs’ emotional brain centers, and the direction of the wag reflects the activation of the dog’s left or right brain hemisphere.
Furthermore, licking releases endorphins in dogs, making them feel calm and content. It’s a comforting behavior that they associate with the nurturing attention they receive as puppies. The oxytocin release related to prolonged, gentle eye contact is another example. Research shows a mutual gaze between a dog and its owner increases the levels of circulating oxytocin in both the dog and their owner.
Breed-Specific Affectionate Behaviours
While all dogs have the capacity for affection, the expression of that affection may vary with breed. For instance, retriever breeds are often more physically demonstrative and may use ‘leaning’ against their owners as an additional sign of affection. On the other hand, terrier types, known for their independence, may show their Love more subtly, often through following their owners around or via focused eye contact.
Dogs and Their Humans: A Unique Bond
The relationship between a dog and its human significantly influences how a dog shows affection. A dog’s relationship with its owner is often much more intimate and trusting than with strangers. This close bond allows for more overt displays of affection, such as licking, leaning, or climbing into a lap for cuddles.
However, even with strangers, dogs can show a degree of affection. Polite sniffing, a gently wagging tail, or an invitation to play can all be signs that a dog is comfortable and open to interaction.
Responding to Your Dog’s Affection
Responding appropriately to your dog’s affectionate behaviors can strengthen your bond. For example, when your dog maintains soft eye contact, respond in kind, but avoid staring contests that can be challenging.
If your dog leans on you, then pets or gentle hugs can be a good response. Training sessions, playtime, and walks can also show your dog you enjoy spending time together. What’s important is that you can figure out what your dog loves best and give them the affection they want.
Understanding dog affection is crucial for maintaining a positive, happy relationship with our furry companions. It allows us to respond appropriately and helps us fulfill our roles as responsible pet owners by ensuring our dogs’ emotional needs are met. In return, we get the benefit of unconditional Love, companionship, and the health benefits associated with pet ownership.