Pup parents know that our dogs love us deeply, even if they do not express it in the same manner humans do. Recently, behavioral research saddened dog lovers when it showed that most dogs don’t like to be hugged.
That’s not to say our pups don’t enjoy receiving affection – they live for our love and approval!
If you want to express your love and appreciation for all the joy your dogs bring into your life, why not try telling them in a language they can understand?
1. Gaze Deeply Into Their Eyes
Dr, Brian Hare, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University topped the NY Times best seller list with his book, The Genius of Dogs. In an interview with Anderson Cooper this past Spring he told the dog-loving newsman that when your pup stares at you he is “hugging you with his eyes.”
In 2015, a team of Japanese researchers identified a phenomenon they dubbed the “oxytocin-gaze positive loop” between bonded humans and dogs. Much like a mother gazing into the eyes of her new baby, extended eye contact with our dogs can cause the feel-good hormone, oxytocin to flood both brains.
Oxytocin is associated with nurturing and attachment, meaning a soft, gentle stare can wordlessly communicate your feelings of love for your pooch in a language dogs have come to understand over thousands of years alongside humans.
This doesn’t mean you should stare deeply into the eyes of the dog that guards your local junkyard! Direct eye contact is still considered a challenge or threat in many situations. However, with your own, trusted pet, gazing into his eyes when the two of you are calmly relaxing can certainly strengthen your bond.
Speak softly, stroke him gently and maintain eye contact as long as your dog is comfortable with it.
2. Raise Your Eyebrows
Another Japanese study, published in the September 2013 volume of Behavioral Processes, found that dogs raise their eyebrows – especially the left one – when greeted by their owners. Using a high speed camera, they scrutinized the facial movements of 12 dogs of various breeds when looking at their owners versus strangers.
When the strangers came along to greet them, the test dogs displayed less facial activity overall and most of it was right sided. The significance is that the right brain controls the left side of the face and is tied to emotion, while the left brain controls the right side of the face and is tied into analytical behaviors.
The researchers concluded that the increased movement of the dogs’ left eyebrows in the presence of their owners indicated “facial laterality in response to emotional stimuli” and that this laterality “probably reflects the dog’s attachment to the owner.”
In humans, specific emotions are attributed to either the left or right facial hemisphere and help us interpret what the person we are interacting with is feeling. Much like the oxytocin-gaze positive pathway, dogs seem to understand and mimic these subtle expressions. So if you are able to raise one eyebrow, make it the left one. Your pup will really feel special!
3. Lean on Them
When we say “lean on” your dog, we don’t mean in an emotional sense, although dogs are great listeners. We mean you should actually press your weight against your dog physically. Not to the point where he feels cornered (or crushed!) just a little to show that you trust him. This is something our pups do to display their affection for us that is often overlooked.
Have you ever had your pooch press up against the backs of your legs while you’re busy in the kitchen? This is another of the many ways they demonstrate their affection for us. It also indicates a high level of trust. Many dogs press themselves tightly against their humans when they are frightened by a thunderstorm or feeling under the weather.
This desire for physical closeness is yet another type of dog hug. If you want to show your pup you love him and rely on him, try “hugging” him right back with a gentle lean!
4. Let Them Sleep With You
Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns is the author of How Dogs Love Us and he has spent decades studying the canine brain using MRI. According to his research, sleeping with a human is the ultimate display of love and trust our dogs can give because that is when they are at their most vulnerable. In the wild, bonded dogs sleep in close proximity to one another, indicating our furry bedmates consider us members of their pack.
Cuddling can also be mutually beneficial for both you and your pooch. First, you help keep each other warm – they don’t call it a “three dog night” for nothing! Second, their rhythmic breathing and steady heart rate are comforting, helping to lull you to sleep. In fact, research shows that a dog’s heart rate can sync up to your own just like a parent and child or a loving couple!
Finally, several studies, including one conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2004 have found that eye contact isn’t the only way dogs stimulate the release of oxytocin. Just touching a dog can boost your “love hormone” level, helping you de-stress from the day and relax into sleep.
If you have a No Dogs in Bed policy, try snuggling up on the sofa or the floor for a few minutes each day to show your affection, trust and appreciation for all your pooch does for you.
5. Just Be Yourself
Throughout his extensive research, Dr. Berns has found that although it’s sometimes hard for us to tell what our dogs are thinking, they definitely do not have the same problem reading our emotions!
A 2016 study conducted by animal behavior experts and psychologists from the universities of Lincoln and Sao Paulo showed that dogs not only recognize the visual cues of human emotions, they can also hear the difference between joy and anguish in our voices.
While they loyally offer comfort when we are sad or sick, a brand new 2018 study found that dogs really shine when it comes to recognizing and helping us celebrate the joyful times in life.
The researchers trained a group of eight dogs to lie calmly in a fMRI machine and showed them pictures of strangers with either happy or neutral expressions. When reviewing the results, they noted all the dogs had significant neural activity in response to pictures depicting happiness.
If your love for your pups is true, they already know it just by looking at your facial expressions, reading your voice, studying your body language and interpreting your actions. So just keep doing what you’re doing and your dogs will reward you by returning your affections in their own special ways!