Dogs are wonderful companions. They are loyal, nonjudgmental, and love unconditionally with no thought of reward or recompense. If they do want anything from us at all, it’s a reciprocation of that love and affection. And we do this in many ways: We feed them, groom them, pet them, rub their bellies, we walk them, and we play with them. But are any of these terms of endearment spoken in a language that dogs can understand? And if not, what are some better ways to show love to our dogs?
Do dogs understand us?
As odd as it sounds, dogs actually understand us a heck of a lot better than most other animals. A 2012 study published in the journal PLOS One revealed that dogs, not apes, are more intuitive when it comes to subtle human behaviors than some of our closest animal relatives. When tasked with finding a hidden treat, the dogs cottoned on to the subtle eye movements of the human tester far faster than the chimpanzees.
Thousands of years of evolution at our side have allowed dogs to have a sort of intuitive understanding of our thoughts and emotions. It’s why dogs seem to always know how we’re feeling. It explains why so many dogs are utilized for helping people with physical or mental disabilities. They just get us. By that logic though, shouldn’t they already know we love them?
Why do dogs understand us?
According to Tufts University's Center for Shelter Dogs, domesticated canines rely heavily on facial expressions and body language to communicate with us. Many scientists believe that dogs are descended from their wild, pack-hunting canine cousins, the wolves. This pack mentality informs much of their behavior, especially as it applies to us — the other members of their pack.
Dogs follow us because we are their alpha. They play with us and run with us because they are mimicking hunting and scavenging. They even wrestle or play fight with us as they would most of their pack mates. These behaviors form a familial bond between you and your pup, which then translates to trust and love over time.
How to show love to dogs
There are few ways to show dogs love that we can bet you’re already doing, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to discuss them.
How to show love with a look
A dog staring at you can mean many things. Most of the time they aren’t looking at you, they’re looking at that piece of carrot in your hand. Be that as it may, science has proven that when dogs are giving you that adoring gaze, their brains are releasing the “pleasure chemical” oxytocin.
Oddly enough, it actually works both ways. Humans feel the same pleasurable love sensation when they meet their dog’s gaze. This is a good place to start, actually. Mimic your dog’s adoring gaze, and you too will show your love.
How to speak love to dogs
You know that silly voice you use when talking to your dog? Well, a recent study proved that dogs actually understand human language way better than we thought. That high-pitched tone or goofy Ace Ventura-esque voice? Dogs actually like that and will often catch on to certain words their owner says in the tone they are used to. There’s even proof that reading to high-energy dogs in shelters calms them down and breeds trust and comfort.
How to understand what your dog wants
This last bit is easy. We know that you know what your dog means when their tail is wagging. We also know what they mean when they are positively staring through you while you eat some jerky on the couch. Dogs are uncomplicated beings when it comes to their own body language, and learning how to respond to their lovey-dovey behavior will actually make it easier to show your own love in return.
Now, most of us don’t have waggly tails to show our happiness at our dog’s arrival, but there are things we can do that mimic their innate behaviors of affection. Take for instance when a dog lays their head on you. This is a sign of affection between dogs. If you want to show them that affection, just lay your head on them gently. They will recognize the gesture and love you for the effort.
How petting and napping can show love
Like most canines, dogs actually enjoy sleeping with or even being next to other members of their pack. Dogs thrive on physical contact. We’re not saying that kisses and hugs are necessary, and you certainly don’t need to lick them back, but even something like a gentle passing pat on the head will do wonders.
As for sleeping together, you may not be the type of person who wants your dog to sleep in the bed with you, and that’s fine — though a recent New York Times article found that most people don’t really mind that type of thing. Nevertheless, even a simple cat nap on the couch together can really amp up the love connection between the two of you. These cuddle sessions will often do wonders for your relationship.
No matter what, so long as you are kind to them and keep feeding them, dogs are going to love you no matter what. But if you really want to show appreciation for that affection, simple gestures are usually best.