How Do Dogs Show Love And Affection?

By helloBARK!
Updated on 23 March 2021
Expert Content

How can you tell if your dog is being affectionate with you?

If you’re a dog owner, you probably shower your canine companion with affection on a daily basis.

But you may be curious to learn how your four-legged friend is showing their love for you.

Often, dogs will show their love for their pet parents through certain behaviors.

Some of these can be obvious, such as licking you.

But some ways that dogs show their affection to their human companions is subtle.

We spoke to four experts, ranging from dog trainers to veterinarian technicians. to learn about the different ways that dogs can show affection to humans.

Beagle stares at the camera (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Beagle stares at the camera (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Look You In The Eye

Rick Allen, Obedience Specialists at The Pampered Pup

One of the primary ways dogs show affection and love is through eye contact. As humans we may not realize it, but eye contact huge in the animal kingdom. If your dog is willing to look you in the eye, it’s a strong sign that they feel safe and comfortable with you.

There are actually some biochemical process going on that support this. Studies have demonstrated that dog’s brains release oxytocin when they look their owners in the eye – the same chemical responsible for feeling love and affection in humans.

Cuddling and eagerness to sleep near their owners are more obvious ways that dogs show their affection, as are carrying your belongings around the house and being excited when you return home from work. There are quite a few more as well.

Terrier mix rolls in the grass (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Terrier mix rolls in the grass (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Humans And Dogs Have Co-Evolved Strategies For Connection

Philip Tedeschi, Human-Animal Connection Expert With Rover

Humans and dogs both have the ability to send and receive love messages to one another. Through thousands of years of interaction, humans and dogs have co-evolved strategies for connection. For dogs, that means wagging their tails, leaning into you, asking to play fetch, staring at you, licking and even wrestling. To reciprocate, humans can express words of affirmation, like “good dog,” share resources like treats, cuddle their dogs and engage in active play.

Dogs have the ability to love their human counterparts, reciprocate love shown towards them and communicate that affection in a number of subtle and overt ways. Perhaps more than any other time in recent history, humans have learned to rely on and appreciate their dogs for mental and emotional support during this pandemic. Here are some examples of your dog’s love languages and how to celebrate them:

• Words of Affirmation – Does your dog wag their tail when you come home? They are likely looking for acknowledgment, much like they do with each other by noticing a new arrival at the dog park. Find a good voice and tone to say how much you care (“Samara, will you be my valentine…you are sweet!”) and use their name to give them recognition. Dogs value being part of the conversation, hearing their name and being acknowledged and included.

• Acts of Service – If your pup is constantly asking to play fetch or nuzzling you for a hike or a bath, they might enjoy what’s called “acts of service,” which is simply showing your dog you care through your actions such as special time together, gentle grooming or a specially-prepared meal.

• Receiving Gifts – A dog who is constantly pawing at their bowl or angling for more treats or toys might be one who appreciates gifts. A dog’s sense of smell is about 100,000 times more sensitive than that of a human.1 Sharing resources (especially treats that smell good!) builds affinity, trust and connection—after all it’s how we co-evolved together.

• Physical Touch – If your dog’s love language is physical touch, you likely know it! They are the dogs who are constantly wanting cuddles. Many dogs love a special physical connection, but like people we all have our own preferences when it comes to physical contact. Research has documented that dogs change our brains and interpersonal neurobiology. By cuddling with our dogs we can share “doggie love,” because oxytocin, informally called “the love hormone” due to its relevance to mother-infant bonding, increases in both humans and companion dogs and can offer a sense of secure connection with one another.

• Quality Time – If your dog is leaning on you, it’s not because they’re lazy, it’s their way to connect. To show them love, try just being with your dog without any distractions, leave your phone behind and take your earbuds out, take them on a walk or simply look into their eyes, which promotes bonding. Dogs are watching and waiting for moments to make that gaze and connect with you. If you have more time, engage in play with your dog: it’s critical to all mammals and an important part of health.

Therapy dog (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Therapy dog (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Epimeletic Behaviors

Nicholas De Roma, Veterinary Technologist, Canine Behavior Specialists and Consultant for

• Licking – Licking is a commonly known sign of affection. This behavior is referred to as an epimeletic behavior, or care-giving behavior. The first thing that a new mother does after giving birth is to lick her puppies and clean them up. Although there are numerous reasons that a dog may lick you, the most common by far is to show affection.

• Tail wagging – Tail wagging can occur for a variety of reasons. However, when a dog wags it’s tail in a loose, relaxed fashion, with a large amplitude, this almost always indicates that they are pleased to see you.

• Leaning into owner – Have you ever noticed during petting your dog, that he leans into your side? This demonstrates that the dog feels comfortable around you and really enjoys your company.

• Resting head on owner – When a dog rests its head on you, this is typically an attention seeking behavior that has been learned and reinforced by the owner overtime. By craving your attention, your dog is showing you that he loves you.

• Jumping – Although jumping is a common training problem in dogs, the basis of the behavior is usually excitement. Therefore, when you walk in thedoor and your dog jumps on you, it means that he is excited to see you. Although being jumped on may not feel very affectionate and may very well hurt, your dog can not contain his excitement when he sees you which is a way of knowing that he loves you.

Student doing homework while her dog relaxes (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Student doing homework while her dog relaxes (Photo: Adobe Stock)

They Ignore Your Rude Behavior

Colby Lehew, Professional Dog Trainer at

The most overlooked sign that dogs trust and love you is through their body language. Dogs give behavior cues to other dogs to let them know they are scared, harmless, or want to play. These cues are called calming signals.

Calming signals were developed by Turid Rugass to describe signals used by dogs to communicate to each other. There are at least 30 calming signals from nose licking to biting. Typically a dog will offer innocent behaviors like nose licking and gradually escalate to biting. The type of signals a dog uses varies across each particular dog. Typically, they are behaviors learned in their early socialization period of their life. However, what is interesting is dogs use these signals to show affection on two fronts.

The first, is that they will respect your signals if you use them. For example, if you turn your head or blink rapidly at your dog, they will back away. This is because your dog is showing affection by respecting your wishes.

The second front is that our pets are much more forgiving of our rude behavior. As a trainer I see owners man-handle their dog, reaching over them, pat their heads, and pull them into cars even when the dog gives all the cues to indicate they are stressed. The dog is trying to tell their human they are not cool with what they are doing. As a trainer I work with non-familiar dogs. I have to be very watchful of these signals because, unlike with their owners, dogs will escalate to aggressive cues like wale eye, lip puffing, and biting. This means I could literally be doing the same thing as the owner but the dog only escalated with me. When it comes to our own furry companies our dogs are much more forgiving. Why, because they trust you.

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