Need some affirmation other than doggie kisses to confirm that your dog really does love you? Scientists got to work on this ‘no-brainer’ question by investigating the way doggie brains react to their owners’ scent.
You make your dog happy
In MRI scans, dogs quickly responded to their owners’ scent with extra activity in the ‘reward’ centre of the brain. This area shows increased activity when you sense or experience something that makes you happy.
Feeling happy when you’re in an MRI scanner may not be easy, but dogs had no difficulty feeling great when they got a whiff of their owners!
As for happy sounds, the auditory cortex of both dogs and humans absolutely love them. Just saying ‘Good boy’ in the right tone of voice will make your doggie’s day.
Dogs are the only pets that rely on you as a child does. A cat or a horse will bolt if something alarms them, but nine times out of ten, your dog will come to you for comfort if he’s scared. That can be a bit disconcerting if he or she is scared of thunder and the storm breaks at 2AM, but it is touching all the same.
Love shows in hormones too
When a mother looks at her infant or when people hug or kiss, our bodies release oxytocin, a hormone that facilitates bonding.
In a recent study, dog owners and their pets had their oxytocin levels tested after interaction and…. The feeling is mutual! Both humans and their pets showed elevated levels of oxytocin after a bit of quality time together.
This has therapeutic implications too. Therapists have observed that contact with therapy dogs helps people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The relaxed, loving feeling that oxytocin causes might have something to do with this.
Dopamine, the ‘happy’ hormone also pays its role, both in canines and humans. We make each other happy, and the chemical evidence of that happiness is evident.
Is it a matter of convenience?
There are academics who believe that the ‘love’ we get from our animals is a matter of convenience. You provide everything they need, therefore they love you.
But then you hear stories such as that of the boxer, Rocky, who had a pathological fear of water, yet rescued his young mistress from death by drowning.
A matter of expediency? Perhaps not! The dog confronted the thing he feared most in order to rescue the little girl he loved.
Mutual understanding paves the way for love
Our dogs are able to read our emotions, but it works both ways. We’re also able to see how our dog is feeling by looking at his face, his ears and his posture. Perhaps this ability to develop mutual understanding makes it even easier for us to love our dogs and for our dogs to love us.
As for language, they say the average dog can understand 165 words or more. And we begin to recognise that different barks, whines or growls mean different things.
Dogs help us to bond with other people too
Countless couples have met, married and started their own families thanks to their shared love of dogs.
You can’t simply walk up to someone in the street and say they’re gorgeous. Chances are, this will cause embarrassment all round, but you can walk up to a stranger and remark on their beautiful dog. Compliments like that are always acceptable!
And of course, if your dog and another dog love to play when they meet in the park, you and your fur-pal’s owner are sure to become firm friends.
The downside of love – they miss you when you’re not there
You’d never want to make your dog unhappy on purpose, but you have to go out and leave him or her at home sometimes.
Dogs don’t like this. They don’t like it when you’re not home and they become anxious and bored. How can you overcome this?
A toy can’t be a surrogate ‘parent’, but the right toy can keep them entertained and distract them from worrying about your absence. Try the Foobler, a toy that’s been developed with your dog’s needs in mind. No, it can’t love them, but it can keep them busy while you’re out.