The Amazing Truth About Our Bond With Dogs

Our bond with dogs is something that lives unwavering in our hearts, but do you ever wonder whether your dog knows how much you love him? 

Does your dog feel love, sadness, guilt, anger even?

The dog and human relationship is so special. The love we have for our dogs courses through our veins, and we’d do almost anything to make them happy. But what do they really feel and understand? How can you show your dog just how much you love them? 

Our bond with dogs: does your dog feel love?

We anthropomorphise our dogs an awful lot these days, which means we give them human attributes, likely because they are such an integral part of our family. And let’s be honest, they’re far easier to love than humans a lot of the time!

Professor Gregory Berns was as curious as we are. When Gregory’s pug Newton passed away at 15 years old, he started thinking about how he’d used MRI machines to understand human decision-making and motivations, and how he could use this to understand dogs better. 

Bern’s has dedicated years of research to discover what our dogs think and crucially what they think of us! Do our dogs hang around for food or because they feel a real emotional connection to us?

He says we can observe actions and dog’s behaviour, to try and figure out what dogs are thinking. Gregory trains dogs to undertake MRI tests so that he can conduct experiments that show how our dog’s brains work. 

Berns found that when a dog was presented with their human’s smell, the part of their brain dedicated to reward and emotional attachment was activated. He conducted the same test with a stranger’s scent, and there was no spike in activity in the dog’s brain. 

Hurrah, the feeling is most definitely mutual!

Do dogs miss us when we’re gone? 

We’d love to think that the wagging tails, and bouncy greetings we receive when we return were solid proof of the human-canine bond… and just how much our dogs love us. 

But what does the science say? When you leave home to pop to the shops, or go away on holiday, does your dog miss you? 

Berns says yes! There is evidence that our dogs remember their humans, and they care about them. The dog’s responses to their human’s scent and the sound of their voice triggered a positive reaction in the reward part of their brain. 

Your dog does care! 

But we knew that, didn’t we? Now we have scientific evidence to prove it!

Dog emotions explained: What emotions can your dogs feel?

Dogs are very social animals for the most part, but what emotions can your dog actually feel? And which emotions do we often misinterpret when it comes to our dogs?

Dogs don’t have the cognitive ability to understand the world the way we do. Leading canine researcher Stanley Coren says dogs have the mental ability comparable to a two-and-a-half-year-old, so there is some understanding there, but it is limited.

The 7 primary emotions a dog can feel are:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Distress
  • Content
  • Frustration
  • Excitement

The two emotions which are often misunderstood when it comes to our dogs are guilt and aggression. 

Dog’s are not capable of feeling guilty, it’s an emotion too complex for their lovely little brains. So, when we see funny gifs of dogs appearing guilty, what’s really going on?

Our dogs are likely feeling fear or responding to our reaction to their ‘guilt-inducing’ behaviour. When your dog poos on the rug, how do you respond? If your dog has been scolded in the past or you’ve quietly stormed off, then your dog may associate their action with feeling a bit scared or with a withdrawal of attention. 

What about aggression? Aggression is a behaviour, not an emotion. To truly understand our dogs, we need to consider what motivates the reaction. In most cases, aggression in dogs is a response to fear. When we feel fear, there are three typical responses; fight, flight or freeze. This is pretty much the same in dogs. 

Do dogs understand human emotions?

Professor Brian Hare of Duke University says dogs can interpret our gestures to understand us or to get what they want.

He thinks that ‘dogs probably at least have a basic form of empathy. There are studies showing that dogs and humans experience a rise in oxytocin, the “hug hormone” when we hug and pet them.’ 

So that feeling you get when you’re a bit down and your dog snuggles close is genuinely making you both feel better! 

Multiple studies have looked at dogs’ reactions to human faces versus objects, and they found that our dogs have a part of their brains dedicated to processing our facial expressions. 

Multiple studies on human emotion identified seven universal facial expressions that we use to express our feelings. These are:

  • Anger
  • Contempt
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Surprise

Take another look at the emotions dogs can feel list above. They’re pretty similar, aren’t they?

Whether dogs can feel love in the way that we do or deeply understand our emotions or not, there is one thing that is certain. Dogs have an undeniable attachment and connection to their people; science has proven what we all felt must be true!

How can I show my dog I love him

The best way to show your dog how much you love them is to take the time to understand them. We love the fact that our dogs feel just as attached to us as we do to them. Showing our dogs understanding and allowing them to be dogs is a great way to celebrate our incredible human and dog bond. 

We have similarities and a deep appreciation for one another, but we are very certainly different species. Barney and Sandy will happily chow down on a beef pizzle, for example, to clean their teeth, fill their tums, and relax…. I’d rather a cup of tea, a jammy dodger, and a toothbrush, quite frankly! 

Will you join us to celebrate our love of dogs on National Terrier Day? That’s right, we love dogs so much we have dedicated an entire day to our favourite breed.

Sign up to our VIP mailing list for inspiration and ideas to celebrate our love of dogs together.

woofs & licks signature from Michelle Barney & Sandy Scruffy Little Terrier

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