It’s easy to tell if your dog loves you. But do you know how to tell him too, using dog language?
Often, the best way to tell a dog that you love him is to imitate him. Dogs rely on facial expressions and body language to communicate. The better you understand canine communication and how your dog feels, the better you’ll be able to empathize and bond with your dog by expressing your love.
Additionally, dogs are descendants of pack animals (although there is still a lively debate about whether they can still be classified as such). Because of the residual or evolutionary genetic inheritance of pack animals, long before domestication, dogs value the bonds established between members of a group, via:
- Hunting (which we often imitate by playing, retrieving a ball, or shooting a squeaky toy)
- Physical exercise (which is an integral part of hunting behavior within a pack)
- Physical contact (ready to recreate a den in your living room?)
By learning to interpret a dog’s body language and mimic pack behavior, you can say “I love you” in the following ways. We all know that a beloved dog equals a happy dog and that a dog’s love means pure, unconditional love.
Don’t be embarrassed to “talk baby”
Studies using a brain MRI test have proven that dogs understand human language, much better than previously thought. So keep talking to your dog, because it’s not such a crazy idea…
Even better: the higher tone you use when talking to your canine friend (also called “baby talk”), dogs love it! Especially when they hear words specific to their lexicon, such as “who’s the good dog?”, “let’s go for a walk?”, “are you hungry? let’s go eat?”… You all know them! Puppies are especially responsive to these higher tones of voice, and respond by coming closer, getting excited, etc.
It has also been shown that reading to dogs can soothe the most anxious and energetic in shelters… Amazing, right?
Listen to your dog closely
Not sure if you’re really sending the message that you love your dog? Your dog’s body language will tell you. Look for the following behaviors:
- A wagging tail
- A direct look
- A raised eyebrow (see below)
Conversely, keep an eye out for the warning signs of a worried dog:
- A tucked tail
- Licking of the lips
- A shifty look
A loving eye-contact
Your dog’s eyes do a lot of talking. So you can communicate with them using the same language of eye contact. When a dog looks longingly into your eyes, it’s a way of saying “I love you.” This is because oxytocin, the “love chemical,” is released in dogs just as it is in humans.
Be careful though. Staring at a dog with intensity can also be a sign of aggression for him.
Expression of love on the face
Most owners know that pets are sensitive to emotional states. Dogs can read human emotions through our facial expressions.
You can be intentional about what your face says to your dog. Japanese behavioral scientists have shown that when a dog feels connected to someone, it often raises its eyebrows, the left one more than the right. So greeting your dog with a raised eyebrow and a relaxed smile communicates to your dog how happy you are to see him.
The touch of love
Did you know that a dog leans on you as a sign of love and trust? Unless the body contact appears to be an anxious behavior or a push to the door to get out, this posture of your dog can be mimicked or reciprocated to show your affection. So go ahead and lean into your dog to show him some love.
Hugs and naps
Part of your dog’s pack behavior is to play and then rest together. Even if you don’t want to leave your dog in bed with you, an afternoon nap together on the couch or in the grass will deepen the sense of connection with your best friend.
And like humans, dogs thrive on physical contact. So even if they don’t enjoy cuddling much, a little time together provides the connection they need.
Dogs thrive on routine and set schedules, so a daily walk will help him understand how much you love and care for him.
Outings and adventures also provide many opportunities to develop skills such as leash walking and recall. These shared experiences and training sessions build trust, communication and that pack connection.
Signs of affection that do not necessarily translate to dogs
It is also interesting to know as an owner that some of the signs of affection we send back may not make sense to dogs.
- Hugs: Some dogs feel trapped and uncomfortable when you hug them too much. Watch his reaction to this gesture.
- Kissing: A kiss on the head can be similar to a dominance gesture. Your dog may think you are trying to play or assert your place in the hierarchy.
- Treats: Just as food can be a sign of affection for humans, treats are best used to motivate behavior and train dogs. Think about how quickly your dog’s loyalty disappears the minute someone offers him treats…