Few feelings are as pure as the one you get when you and your dog lock eyes and share a special moment. That, friends, is love — and it’s definitely not one-sided.
For as much love and affection as you shower on your dog, he’s got just as much to return. Your relationship is one of mutual adoration that’s nearly impossible to break.
You love your dog for his loyalty, his entertaining antics, his comforting presence, and his one-of-a-kind personality. But without a shared verbal language or telepathic abilities, it’s tough to say why he loves you.
That’s not to say we’re totally clueless, though. We’ve got several theories as to why dogs love us — and believe it or not, science has a few things to say about it too.
Three Reasons Why Dogs Love Us
The Scientific Explanation: Hormones
Regardless of species — human, dog, cat, bird — the emotion of love is controlled by a very powerful hormone: oxytocin.
Oxytocin is released during bonding activities, and especially during physical contacts, such as when a mother holds her baby or when you cuddle with your partner. It’s also released when you pet your dog, both in your brain and in his.
When oxytocin is released, it causes that fuzzy, full-hearted feeling that we associate with love. It makes us feel relaxed, trusting and more able to regulate our stress responses.
We come to associate those warm, happy feelings with whoever we’re with when the oxytocin is released. And that’s the basic foundation of love: good emotions that are felt mutually between two people — or a person and their dog.
Dogs also experience oxytocin released during petting sessions, so it stands to reason that they fall in love just like we do. Physical affection and other bonding activities kickstart his oxytocin production and make him love us.
The Dietary Explanation: Food
You don’t need to be Albert Einstein to figure out that dogs love to eat. Food is an essential part of a dog training toolkit, and that’s because dogs will do just about anything for a tasty treat.
With stomachs that always seem to be able to fit just a little more and brains whose pleasure centers light up like a fire when the kibble hits the bowl, dogs are undeniably food-motivated. And that may be a big part of why your dog loves you: you bring him food.
The pleasure your dog gets from seeing, smelling and eating food can be addicting. It doesn’t just taste good, it makes his whole body and mind feel good — and by association, you do the same thing.
Once your dog begins to associate you with food, he experiences those same pleasure responses whenever he sees you. You’re inextricably linked with the joy of eating good food, and that makes him adore you as much as he adores those dog treats.
The Evolutionary Explanation: Symbiosis
Humans began living alongside canines tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years ago. Back then, we were hunter-gatherers and dogs werewolves, and our relationship began rather cautiously.
It’s likely that wolf packs began following roving bands of humans as they wandered the wilderness, eating up the leftovers from their hunts. The wolves figured out that if they didn’t act aggressively, the humans would let them stick around — and if a particular wolf was friendly enough, the humans would throw him an extra scrap or two.
We were probably drawn to the novelty of interacting closely with another species, and the wolves were probably thrilled to have full stomachs all the time. These well-fed wolves were better-equipped to reproduce, and over time, the genes that made them friendlier to humans were passed on in greater quantities.
In fact, scientists believe they’ve identified those exact genes. They’re the same ones that cause Williams syndrome in humans — a condition that makes people extremely sociable, friendly, trusting and eager to be close to others.
Fast forward many thousands of years and you arrive at the era of true domestication when wolves and domestic dogs diverged into separate species. By this point, the domestic dog was genetically predisposed not just to tolerate humans, but to truly enjoy their company and exist symbiotically with them.
Those genes persist into the modern-day, and they may be the reason why dogs love humans so much. What started as an evolutionary advantage has blossomed into its own hallmark trait: love for humans.