- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Like many pet parents, you’ve probably wondered if your dog loves you or is just dependent on you. Of course, we give them belly rubs, delicious treats, and plenty of snuggles to show them our love, but do they really love us back—and not just for food? The good news? They do!
Like humans, the hormone oxytocin, or “the love chemical,” is released in dogs’ brains during positive social interactions with their pet parents, like snuggling and playing, explains Amanda Modes, DVM, a behavior veterinarian for Behavior Vets. Research from Japan supports this, showing that the release of oxytocin strengthened a dog’s social bonds.
Dogs show love in many ways, such as licking your face, jumping on you, and wagging their tail when you get home. It’s all about deciphering their body language and responding correctly.
Let’s dive into the signs your dog loves you and how to strengthen your bond with your dog.
How to Tell Your Dog Loves You
Dr. Modes explains that, similar to humans, dogs show love in different ways. She adds that while it’s impossible to know every unique indicator of dog love, there are some common, universal signs. The following are the twelve most common signs that your dog loves you.
Your dog greets or follows you around
Many pet parents are familiar with this scene: you open your door, and your dog is immediately attached to you at the hip, welcoming you home. Your dog might even jump, bark, whine, or happy cry when you get back. In fact, studies have shown that not only do dogs cry, they cry more when reunited with their pet parents (as opposed to someone they don’t know), due to increased oxytocin.
“For most dogs, the fact that we leave, and they just wait patiently for us to come home is pretty special,” Dr. Modes explains.
Your dog wags their tail when they see you
Your dog’s tail is an essential communication tool with you and other dogs. If your dog’s tail is furiously wagging whenever they see you or you’re around, this is love in its truest form. Dr. Modes also notes that if your dog’s tail is slightly raised or straight up, it can indicate happiness from your pet.
Your dog licks you
Dogs love to lick. When a dog licks you, they’re giving you kisses. Kissing is a universal sign of affection, even among dogs! Licking for dogs is also an attention-seeking behavior. So if your dog licks you, they might be asking you for playtime, cuddle time, or pets.
Your dog leans on or sits with you
Some dogs also love to sit with you to feel close. So when your dog comes up to you and leans their full weight against your legs, they’re showing you they trust and love you implicitly. For many dogs, the lean is akin to hugging.
If your dog wants to lean on or sit with you, it’s important to let them come to you on their terms and not force them.
Your dog makes eye contact with you
Eye contact among humans is very intimate and creates a deeper bond of trust. The same goes for pet parents and their dogs. “Just like humans gaze into each other’s eyes to show love and affection, so does your dog,” says Gary Richter, DVM, a veterinary health expert on Rover’s Dog People Panel. Dr. Modes adds that dogs show love with soft eye contact.
That’s why eye contact is so important during dog training too. Dogs learn to trust and obey that eye contact and, therefore, trust you. Additionally, research shows dogs look at their pet parents for reassurance when trying to problem-solve, a common part of training.
Your dog recognizes your name
It’s well-established that dogs recognize their names, but over time, your dog learns to recognize your name and be visibly excited when they hear it. “[There’s] no reason to believe they wouldn’t be able to recognize their [pet parent’s] name,” explains Philip Tedeschi, the Director Emeritus and Founder of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection and another member of the Dog People Panel.
He adds that if dogs recognize your name and show signs of happiness, like tail wagging and barking, they associate you with good things.
Your dog wants to play with you
Dogs who love their pet parents want to spend as much time with them as possible. This includes the all-important playtime. Tedeschi says that if dogs seek you out and play with you specifically, it indicates a very strong connection that could be perceived as love.
“[Your dog’s] decision to choose you and be in close proximity is one of the ways I would define love,” he adds. “Play is one of the most important behaviors in all species.”
Your dog sleeps with or near you
Love when your dog curls up right next to you? Sleep is a vulnerable time for your dog. If they sleep near or in bed with you at night, they trust and love you completely and consider you a member of their pack. Interestingly, according to a survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 46% of adults in the U.S. sleep in the same bed with a pet.
Your dog rolls on their back and shows their belly
Nothing says “I love you” better than your dog rolling on their back and asking for belly rubs. Much like the famous lean, when your dog rolls over, it signals a high degree of love and trust. Note that this isn’t the same when your dog rolls on their back in the grass or stinky things, behavior that can indicate an instinctual need to mark territory, or that your dog might have allergies.
Your dog trusts you with their toys
Everyone loves presents—including your dog! Just as cats bring gifts, so do dogs. The most common dog present? Their favorite toys! These are treasured items to your dog, so when they bring them to you, they’re demonstrating their trust in and love for you.
Tedeschi explains that just as dogs want to occupy spaces important to you, like your bed or the couch, they want to share items important to them with you, including their toys, as an expression of love.
Your dog loves stealing your clothes
Dogs navigate the world using scent, and Dr. Modes says a dog’s sense of smell is thousands of times more sensitive than ours. If your pup has become a laundry thief, they just want to be close to your scent.
Stealing might not be the most appropriate behavior, but research shows that when presented with many different smells, dogs get the most excited over their human’s scent. Dr. Modes adds that dogs “often use smells to learn about and understand their environments, including their connection with humans.”
Your dog makes special facial expressions at you
We’re all familiar with the infamous “puppy eyes” and how dogs look at their pet parents. In fact, dogs can actually recognize your face, according to new research, and make specific facial expressions when they see you.
For example, studies from Japan show that when dogs see their pet parent, they immediately lift their eyebrows (especially their left brow), demonstrating a dog’s attachment to their pet parents.
Why Does My Dog Love Me So Much?
If you’ve noticed your dog is more attached to you than your partner, sibling, or family members, it may be because you are your dog’s favorite person. Why your dog prefers you over your partner may come down to the special way you interact with your pet.
For example, if you respect their boundaries, spend more time cuddling or playing with them, give them food and treats, or are an integral part of their routine, you’re more likely to stand out. “Our dogs give us a degree of unconditional love that can be had nowhere else,” Dr. Richter adds.
You’ll notice your dog loves you the most when they choose to:
- Lean or sit on you more than anyone else
- Be around you the most
- Greet you excitedly, especially with zoomies
- Make eye contact with you
- Bring you toys or gifts
- React to your name with a tail wag
- Make unique facial expressions at you
- Lick you
- Steal your clothes rather than someone else’s
How Can I Increase My Bond With My Dog?
The bond between a pet parent and their dog is incredibly special. If you’re curious about how to build or strengthen that bond, Dr. Modes suggests taking some time to really pay attention to what they are saying to you.
“Through very subtle body language, dogs communicate how they are feeling,” she says. For example, if your dog smiles at you, it means they like being around you. However, if your dog turns their head or body away from you, it’s time to leave them alone. Acknowledging these cues is essential to forging a healthy, long-lasting bond with your dog.
Other tips to build a better bond with your dog include the following.
- Learn their communication style
- Train and reward for increased eye contact
- Show affection, cuddle, and snuggle your pet
- Take them on more walks or trips to a dog park
- Invest in high-quality dog training
- Continually praise your dog for good behavior
- Show your love with tasty dog treats and healthy dog food
The evidence is pretty clear that dogs do love us, albeit in many different ways. The key to nurturing this love? Healthy communication and respect between you and your dog.
“When we learn what our dogs are telling us and respect those feelings and emotions, we empower our dogs to continue to communicate with us, and that level of communication will foster any bond,” Dr. Modes concludes.