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How do dogs show affection? 6 ways your dog says ‘I love you’

Pug shows affection

It’s easy for humans to show affection for their dogs. A belly rub, treat, or snuggle session on the couch says “I love you” in a language that both people and their pets can understand. But how does your dog show you they care? 

Dogs do communicate clearly, as long as you know what to look for. From nose to tail, dogs use their bodies to convey how they feel. Here are some ways your dog may show you love: 

1. Eye contact 

Eye contact is an intimate and for many dogs, it’s a display of trust and affection. Research has found that when we gaze lovingly into our dogs’ eyes, they both understand and return the affection. Dogs and humans both release oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, when they look into each other’s eyes. So, if your dog is staring at you with soft, puppy dog eyes, you may be right to think they’re saying, I love you. 

It is important to note that affectionate eye contact is different from threatening eye contact. Long, sustained eye contact is reserved for people you love, trust, and feel safe with. Forced eye contact can make dogs uncomfortable, fearful, and stressed. A “hard stare” is typically accompanied by a stiff tail, tense posture, and dilated pupils. Instead, look for opportunities to make and hold eye contact with your dog throughout the day during pleasant interactions like playtime or while cuddling on the couch. 

2. Excited greetings 

It’s not the best manners, and can even be dangerous, but it’s hard not to be flattered when your dog is jumping all over you and is extremely happy to see you. Greetings that involve jumping, licking, tail wagging, or even some happy grunts or a potty accident are your dog’s way of showing you they love you and are thrilled to see you. 

As adorable as it is, you may not want to encourage some of these signs of affection. Jumping up on you to get closer to your face and lick you can be dangerous if your dog is big enough to knock you over. It is true that if your dog gets extra-bouncy around you, they’re showing you how much they care. Rather than letting them topple you to the ground, train your dog to sit patiently for a treat. You can also try ignoring them and letting them settle down before rewarding them with praise and affection. 

3. Physical contact 

Physical affection can be important for your relationship with your dog. Pets, cuddles, leans, and gentle hugs are strong signals that you and your dog are truly bonded.  

Leaning 

Most dog parents have likely witnessed their dog leaning but not realized what it means. When your dog comes up to you and leans their full weight against your legs, they’re showing you they trust you. For many dogs, the lean is like a full-body hug. 

An affectionate lean is relaxed and calm. Look for a slightly open mouth, soft eyes, and a gently wagging tail. A lean can also indicate that your dog is feeling stressed, in which case they will likely show other signs of stress. However, leaning against you when they are uncomfortable or fearful is also a way for your dog to tell you that you are their safe place. 

Nosing 

Does your dog ever come up and nudge you with their nose? This can be a sign of affection, a way for your dog to say “Hey, I like you!” Of course, nose-nudging is also a way for dogs to seek attention. Either way, your dog wants to be around you. 

Licking 

Kissing is a universal sign of affection, even among dogs! This is likely a behavior learned from the grooming and affection given to puppies by their mothers and has become a ritualized greeting for many. A dog licking their owner is so common, owners widely call it “giving kisses.” These kisses release endorphins that make your dog feel relaxed, calm, and happy.  

Rolling over  

Nothing says “I like you” like a dog rolling onto their back and asking for belly rubs. Much like leaning, rolling over puts your dog in a vulnerable position and shows a high degree of trust and relaxation. They may even let out a long, happy sigh or other soft vocalizations to indicate that they feel safe and comfortable with you. 

4. Gifts 

Dogs will often give gifts to the leaders of their pack to show affection, respect, and trust. They can be possessive of their belongings, so trusting you with their favorite toys could be their way of expressing their faith in you to take care of their treasured items for them. That’s a big responsibility and a big compliment! 

5. Carry around your stuff 

Dogs who are emotionally attached to their owners love their owners’ scents—and anything that has their smell on it. If your dog raids your shoe pile or laundry basket for items that smell like you, it may be because they just love you and want to be reminded of you wherever they go. 

6. Sleep with you 

Sleeping together with their pack is a natural instinct for dogs and something they did as newborn puppies with their littermates. Your dog wanting to sleep next to you—either in your bed or in your room—is a sign of affection and closeness. According to experts at Wag, they like your company, consider you a member of the pack, and want to show their loyalty, trust, and willingness to protect you—or let you protect them. 

Take home message on how dogs show love and affection 

Dogs show affection to humans in ways other than hugs and smiles, and these expressions of emotions can range from super subtle to totally obvious, so it can be tough to tell what’s a positive expression or a negative expression. Paying attention to the signs your dog loves you can help you recognize the deep bond the two of you have. 

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