Do Our Dogs Love Us Back?
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Do Our Dogs Love Us Back?

What's going on in the canine brain? Several scientific studies aimed to find out and to decide whether our furry friends love us just as much as we love them.

Close-up of a dog laying on the floor.

All dog owners love their pets. Any pet owner, in general, loves whatever animal, insect, or reptile they've decided to make a part of their family. I know for me personally, I've formed such special bonds with the animals in my life, dogs especially. The memories I've made with them hold a very large part of my heart, and I wouldn't change that for the world.

But, whether cuddling with my own puppers or playing with someone else's, I've often found myself debating a question that many other pet owners have: Do dogs love us back? I think of my dog as my best friend – but do they think the same of me?

Well, dog lovers, rejoice! It turns out, based on a plethora of scientific evidence and studies, that our pups are just as fond of us – in fact, they think of us as family and protectors.

This 2017 article by Carl Smith references what's called the "oxytocin-gaze positive loop." Oxytocin is the hormone and neurotransmitter in our brains that helps facilitate bonding in humans, particularly when we're in contact with our loved ones. But it turns out it's not only humans who use this chemical bonding pathway – a 2015 study from Japan found evidence of dogs using the same system. They saw oxytocin spike in both species' brains, specifically when humans and dogs stared into each other's eyes.

The second piece of evidence centers around a crucial canine sensory point: their noses. Dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses while humans only have six million. Even the section of their brain that analyzes smells is bigger than ours – about 40 times larger, proportionally speaking. It's safe to say that smell is one of the most significant traits in our canines – animal cognition scientists at Emory University knew this, too, and conducted a neuroimaging study in 2014 about odor processing in dog brains. They specifically wanted to see how their brains responded to familiar and unfamiliar human and dog odors – and boy, did their brains respond. The study found that when smelling their owner's scent, the "reward center" of their brains lit up. In fact, it was only the scent of familiar humans that activated that specific section of their brains.

Another indicator that dogs really do care for their humans lies in a more obvious place: their behavior. Attila Andics, a neuroscientist who conducted a study of canine brain activity in response to sound, told Mic in 2014 that when dogs are scared or worried, they run right to their owners for protection. He also noted that they're one of the only domesticated species to do so – other animals like cats or horses will run away from their owner when spooked.

But dogs look at us as even more than their protectors – they look at us like family, even a member of the pack, and look out for our well-being. Research from a 2015 study conducted in Japan shows that our pups can perceive when we're being snubbed or ignored and will in return act coldly to whoever is dissing us. Scientists conducting the study set up an experiment in which dogs watched their owners ask for help from other participants in the study and watched again as their owners were either ignored or helped. Then, when offered food by the participants who ignored their owner, the majority of dogs actually ignored them back in response. Yay for solidarity!

The fact that humans will probably never be able to directly communicate with dogs makes it hard to conclude what they really think of us – but there are many, many studies that suggest that they do really care and can pick up on our emotions just as intelligently as another human. So while we might not ever know exactly what's going on in our pups' brains, we can find solace in the fact that special bonds do exist between dogs and their owners. I know I do.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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