Q & A: Do dogs love humans?

Q: I heard that dogs don’t have any emotional attachment to humans, and that they don’t have the ability to love you. And that they will only be obedient for a treat or reward, and not because they want to please their owner. Is it true that they don’t actually love you?

A: Define Love. Not so easy. It is a feeling we can all relate to. Science cannot determine what ‘love’ means from a dog’s perspective. However, we do know that canines are a social species and they do have emotions.

Dogs have the ability to form very real and strong bonds with other species, enjoying a symbiotic relationship – be it with an owner or another companion pet. In some cases, an over-attachment can be hyperbolised, resulting in extreme distress when separated from a particular companion.

A relationship will develop as long as there is a positive reinforcement of some kind for the dog.

Hormonal studies have shown that when a dog is stroked by their owner (provided the dog and owner have a good relationship) they have increased levels of oxytocin.

Although a dog cannot tell us exactly how they are ‘feeling’ during pleasurable activities, it would be safe to say there are similar sensations in dogs to those that humans experience – suggesting that they are feeling affection towards and attachment to their owners.

The outdated culture of thinking a dog should do things for us out of ‘respect’ is exploitation and a self-serving notion of entitlement.

Behaviours which receive a pleasurable reinforcement will be repeated – ultimately creating a bond and a relationship between an owner and their dog.

Samantha Walpole, behaviourist

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