You go on long walks together, cuddle up on the couch, and enjoy sloppy kisses.
You really love that pup, but what's going on there, does your dog love you back?
First, let's address the bigger philosophical question.
Does your dog love anything?
Can your dog love?
I think that in many ways we could apply the same criteria to dogs and other non-human animals as we do to human animals.
That's Marc Bekoff.
He spent a lifetime understanding animal minds from coyotes and wolves to domestic dogs like yours.
And he says dogs probably think and feel similar to humans.
A lot of new research on neuroimaging using FMRI's is showing that the same parts of dog brains and human brains light up.
For example, when they're feeling jealous.
So, really, the difference between how your dog feels joy and other emotions and how you experience them might be like the difference between you and another human.
So, dogs can likely experience what we'd think of as loving relationships, and studies show that dogs are pretty good at building relationships with us too, comes as no surprise.
One study found that dog brains are highly adapted to recognize human faces and interpret our social cues.
So, maybe that's why your dog is always extra sweet when it knows you've had a bad day.
But are those puppy dog eyes just for you, or is your dog pretending to love you for, you know, food.
And that I think is really ridiculous.
Are there dogs that use people for certain things?
Well, I'm sure there are, just like there are people who use people for certain things, but I don't think that that would characterize the overall nature of dog-human relationships.
So, yes, your dog can love you.
Oh, all right, great, we can all go home.
Well, no, just because they can, doesn't automatically mean that they do.
Each dog is a unique individual and it's not one-size-fits-all.
Some of the most brutally abused dogs I've met, who took months to even get them to make eye contact with me and or other humans, have the capacity to love, but you had to earn it, it wasn't just sort of here it is.
No, you had to earn their trust.
And like everything worth having in life, that trust will take time and work.
But it can be done.
You sometimes just go, good dog, when they've quote done nothing, and I say, "Good dog" to dogs all the time
and people go, well, why did you do that? They didn't do anything.
And I would always just say, "because they're alive and they're good dogs."
I don't know.
It's like human beings saying to a good friend, "I love you" or "I'm really glad to be your friend."
And don't worry, you'll know when you've earned your pooch's trust.
Do they follow you around?
Do they just hang out with you, not only when you're feeding them or walking them?
Do they follow you around, do they seek you out?
Do people tell you, if you will, when you're not there that they wander around having wanderlust?
Is it clear that they miss you?
Oh, yeah, checks out, that's a happy dog.
So, can your dog love you?
Does your dog love you?
Well, that's on you.
If you want to learn more about how your dog experiences the world, check out Marc Bekoff's recent book, Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do.