In the English language, we have just one word to describe that fuzzy, warm feeling we experience when we get close to someone we … love. Yep, that’s the word: love. The ancient Greeks were a bit smarter in this respect: they used different words to describe the love for a spouse, a sibling, a parent or a friend. I have to wonder which word or words they used to describe the love between pets and people.

Is it the same way we love family or something different? Maybe it’s something more than a loving family to some people and very different for others. Love is such a hard word to define. How do you love your dog and how would you define it? How do dogs love us? Maybe that is something entirely different all together. So … do our pets actually “love” us as we understand it?

This question was put to a well-known behaviorist and author of Tufts University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Nicholas Dodman. His response was: “In my opinion, yes, according to clinical evidence. Food does play a large role in feelings of affection between pet and owner. But dog does not live by biscuit alone. The mere presence and/or touch of a preferred person has been shown to reduce the heart rate of dogs … which is a sign of bonding. Like people, dogs don’t simply like the of love someone just because they are there. The personality of the pet and the person makes a large difference. A dominant or independent dog, for instance, is less likely to become enamored with a submissive owner. But he may become attached to someone who is s strong leader. This same person may terrify a dog that has endured hard times. A dog like this is more likely to adore a comparatively gentle owner.”

Some dogs do become hopelessly devoted to their owners, greeting them so exuberantly that the owner has no doubt he or she is the center of the dog’s universe. But sometimes these dogs are so hyper-attached that they manifest signs of separation anxiety once the owner leaves for a period of time.

The flip side is a very dominant, confident and independent dog. These dogs may border on indifference, and their feelings are along the lines of tolerance rather than attachment. They “tolerate” their owners simply because they are fed.

What is far better is the love in which a dog has learned to trust and respect his owner without abject humility, fear or desperate need to be around all the time. The image this brings to mind is that of a mature rat terrier, walking beside his beloved owners, perhaps for a stroll in the evening down a country road. Such dogs have enough confidence to run off and play in the grass, but enjoy returning to the social group that is the family. This can be described as a healthy love.

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