“You can tell by the kindness of a dog how a human should be.” – Captain Beefheart
You may wonder, how deep is your pup’s love for you? We’ll put it simply: your dog’s love for you is unconditional. The rarest kind of love, in fact, usually found only in family members and partners. Want proof? Turns out that unconditional love leaves evidence.
In 2015, researchers in Japan found that when dogs and humans engaged in “cross-species mediated bonding” (which is to say, gazed into each other’s eyes), BOTH humans and dogs showed a spike in oxytocin. Oxytocin is often called the love hormone, and is related to trust and empathy.
(Bonus: oxytocin can treat low mood, so keep looking into your pup’s eyes!)
Since 2012, neurologist Dr. Gregory Berns has given M.R.I.s to about 90 dogs. These scans showed that dogs are wired to process human faces rather than objects, and that their brains responded equally well to praise and food. So a “good boy” from you may be just as good as that new rawhide!
And according to Dr. Berns: “Dogs aren’t just learning from being around us that human faces are important — they are born to look at faces. This wasn’t known before.” We already knew dogs were special, but this is a big one. It’s no wonder that dog-human love is so strong.
Dogs’ unconditional love for their humans is also evidenced by their behavior: namely, dogs’ willingness to put their own lives on the line in order to protect their owners. In the past couple years, we’ve seen headlines of a heroic pup who saved their elderly human from a robber; a rescue pup who saved his humans from a runaway SUV, and a canine hero who led rescuers to his blind owner in a frigid brook. Even when dogs have not been trained for life-saving, many will attempt it anyway: research has shown that dogs’ giant well of empathy for humans prompts them to these extremes. Sometimes we wonder - exactly who is taking care of who here?
Since dogs keep on loving us no matter what we do, we have to honor that love by treating them wonderfully. Physical affection, regular meals, frequent exercise; these are all super important to that loving creature in your life.