Here’s my dog. Her name is Dot, she’s about seven years old in that picture, and I love her very much. Having been away from her during this semester, I grow more and more excited to see her again, and so I started to remember all of her little quirks. Dot eats when my family eats, and will whine if we don’t put food in her bowl even if she ate right before we did. When my mom goes to bed, and I stay up to finish up any class work, Dot will stay with mom until she falls asleep and come back to the room I’m working in. She’ll stay with me until I finish and sees me go to bed. She would normally sleep with my mother or father, but about a month before I went to college she would sleep with me as if she knew I was leaving soon. Despite all of this, I began to wonder: Does she actually love me? So today I want to explore: Do dogs love their owners?
According to this article, scientists say dogs view us as family, which would explain Dot eating when we eat and waiting until everyone is safe in bed until she sleeps. Dogs depend on us now more than their own species for affection and protection.
This article outlines a study which shows dogs recognize their owners. When dogs were presented with the scent their owner, a stranger, a dog they knew, a dog they never met, and their own scent, the only scent that activated the caudate nucleus was that of their owner. The caudate nucleus is the part of the brain that reacts to familiar stimulants. I deduce the reason why dogs were able to recognize their owners but not a dog they met before is most likely due to the fact that dogs are around their owners far more often than the neighbor’s dog or a dog they met at the park, and so the dog would react more strongly to their owners than that dog. Think of it like eating a food you grew up on and a food you had for the first time last week. Despite having ate both foods before, you would be able to recognize the food you ate throughout childhood due to repeated exposure.
So dogs rely on us and recognize our scent, but I feel like that may not be enough to prove they love us.
Dr. Paul Zak references a few studies that show dogs and their owners release oxytocin when interacting, which he also states a way to measure love in mammals is to measure the oxytocin released during different interactions.
This article outlines the functionality of ocytocin, and defines the hormone as a neurotransmitter often associated with love, and is released during physical activities such as hugging, cuddling, sex, and breastfeeding. The hormone allows us to trust others and form bonds, as well as relax and reduce anxiety.
So by this, we can deduce that we have a mutual relationship of trust and relaxation when cuddling with our puppies. That peaceful feeling I get when Dot gives me kisses and falls asleep with her chin resting on my knee as she waits for me to finish work, I can now confidently say Dot most likely feels the same way when I pet and hold her.