Written by: AllieDen
All dog lovers have had that moment when they look over to their dog and wonder how they view themselves and the world around them? Who do they think they are and who do they think their humans are? Do they love me? Because our dogs can’t speak to us, it can seem impossible to find out what’s going on in their minds, but in actual fact there has been a huge amount of scientific research into finding out about our dogs’ inner lives, using everything from clever experiments to brain scanning.
Of all the pets that you can have, dogs seem to inspire a kind of bonding that goes beyond pet and owner and closer towards being family. There is a very good reason for this. We have looked after dogs for so many thousands of years that we have actually evolved together. This means that dogs have evolved to be closer to humans, and we have evolved to be closer to dogs. So the special relationship that many people feel they have with their dogs is because we have evolved to be perfect companions.
You might sometimes wonder how your dog sees you. Do they think you’re another dog? Do they think that they are a human? The answer is actually no. Dogs are well aware that they are not actually human and they know that dogs are different from humans, mainly because we smell different. That doesn’t mean that they feel more distant from us, but they do have a different relationship with us than they would if they thought we were dogs.
Our dogs see us as family in a way that they don’t see other dogs. They are more inclined to bond with us than they are with other dogs and they see their human owners in the same way as a child sees their parents. When a small child is somewhere unfamiliar, they will use their parent as a “secure base”. They will explore the new place, but they will keep their parent close by and check back with them now and again reassure themselves that they are safe. Dogs do exactly the same thing when they are in an unfamiliar environment with their human owners.
Many dog owners attribute all sorts of emotions to their dogs, and people who aren’t dog lovers sometimes scoff and insist that the owners are reading too much into it. But they are wrong. Your dog does have a whole complex inner world of emotions. Dogs’ brains contain exactly the same emotional structures as human brains, and scientists estimate that their brain development is about on par with a 2 to 2.5-year-old human child. This means that they can feel:
Their brain isn’t quite as developed as a human adult, so researchers don’t think that they can feel more complex emotions such as guilt, shame, pride, or contempt. When your dog looks “guilty” they aren’t really experiencing guilt in the same way that we are. They are making a connection between whatever they have done and your reaction, which will be negative. So they are feeling a type of fear in anticipation of you being angry with them.
When dog owners insist that they can see certain emotions in their dog, they really can. Dogs’ faces have evolved to have more expressions than wild dogs’ faces, and these expressions are specifically there to make it easier for humans to be able to see what their dog is feeling.
Don’t worry, your dog probably loves you just as much as you love them. Dogs are more than capable of feeling love and they are primed to develop feeling love for their human owners. To them, you are their parent. And they love you just as much as a toddler would love you. And, as many people know, toddlers can feel a whole lot of love!
Of course, even though your dog does love you, they will never be able to say the words (even though you probably say it to them!). But there are plenty of ways that your dog can show you just how much you mean to them. You just have to be able to recognize it. Here are some of the ways that your dog could be showing you that they love you:
Your dog doesn’t want anything bad to happen to you and, if they had to, they would most likely protect you with their life. Guarding behavior isn’t just barking when the mailman comes to the door. It can also include sitting near you facing out, especially when you’re eating, sleeping, or otherwise vulnerable.
Just like with humans, dogs cuddle up with the people they love. They get all of the same bonding and emotions that you feel when you cuddle with someone you love, which is probably why many of them want to cuddle so much!
Your dog cares about you and they are very good at reading humans’ faces (just like we can read theirs) and they are especially good at reading eye expressions. So you might catch your dog staring into your eyes, and this is because they want to know what you’re thinking or feeling.
Many dog owners have had the experience of their dogs seeming worried about them when they’re sad. They might want to be extra close to you, lick your face, or nuzzle you. They do know that you’re sad and they are trying to help you feel better because they love you.
If you’re out and about with your dog and the other human members of your family, you might notice that your dog really, really doesn’t like it when the group splits up. They might run back and forth between the different members and could even seem agitated. They are doing this because they love their family and want to make sure that no-one gets left behind.
Humans and dogs have been together for thousands of years and the closeness that dog lovers feel towards their dogs shows this. Dogs know they aren’t human but they do love their human owners in the same way that a toddler loves their parents, and they find all sorts of ways to show their humans this. Having dogs as pets is such a rewarding experience for both owners and dogs because they often feel more like part of the family than a pet, and they feel exactly the same way.
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