Wondering If Your Dog Loves You? You’re Asking The Wrong Question

It was the last place I expected to see controversy.

If asked if their dog loves them, most people would reply, “Hell yeah.” At least that’s what I thought.

But after seeing the responses to a video I shared on Facebook, I’m wondering if asking if our dogs love us is the wrong question.

Honey the golden retriever loves.

Do I love you?

Don’t Ask

I recently shared a video on the Something Wagging Facebook page that featured a five question quiz to know if your dog loves you. After over 100 people shared it, I traveled around the internet to follow the wide range of comments.

Of course there were arguments about whether people should crate their dogs or let them sleep in their beds. One person argued that even asking the question was narcissistic (a point I sympathize with).

But the comments that made me sad came from awesome dog people who noted that their dog didn’t “pass the love test.”

And that got me thinking. If we’re asking a series of questions to tell us if our dogs love us, maybe we’re asking the wrong ones.

Here, check out the video. Then, let’s talk.

If you’re unable to view the video, here are four questions to ask yourself to know if your dog loves you:

  • Does your dog want to spend time with you after she’s eaten?
  • Does your dog want to sleep near you?
  • Is your dog calm when you leave her?
  • Is your dog happy to see you when you come home?

Does your dog pass all four of the “love tests?”

If not, I wouldn’t worry. Because there’s something important the test doesn’t consider.

Honey the golden retriever chews a squeaky toy.

Well, I would want to spend time with you if you were half as interesting as this squeaky.

A Dog Walks Into A MRI

Sounds like a joke set up, doesn’t it?

But Billy Higgins of the Wall Street Journal based his video on the research of Dr. Gregory Berns. And Berns conducted his research by training dogs to lie quietly in an MRI machine so he could scan their brains’ response to stimuli.

Read that again. The research is based on dogs trained “to lie quietly in an MRI machine….”

Could your dog lie quietly in a contained space, unable to move, while a machine making weird sounds scans his brain? I don’t think my dog Honey would like it one little bit.

Honey the golden retriever plays in snow.

I wonder what an MRI would say about how I feel in the snow.

So the questions Dr. Berns suggests as a good way to know if your dog loves you is based on research done using the best trained, most relaxed, and completely trustful dogs.

Dogs who were poorly socialized as puppies or who have lived through a traumatic incident might show their love differently than the “love test” expects them to.

After all, if brain scans of depressed people or folks suffering from PTSD look different from those of happy and well-adjusted people, why wouldn’t the scans of dogs look different based on their temperament or mental health?

Which means that we may need to wait until scientists find a way to scan the brains of dogs who can’t tolerate an MRI machine to understand all the different way dogs show love.

After all, an autistic child will show their love differently than a neurotypical person. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love.

Honey the golden retriever on an off-leash walk.

I love walking unleashed.

Honey the golden retriever runs off leash.

But I always come running back.

The Right Questions To Ask

If you watched the video, you saw a fifth question that I didn’t mention above. And that question is: Do you love your dog?

And no, I don’t mean do you squee every time you see him sleeping with his fuzzy belly showing. Or that you can’t stop from giving yourself from giving him a big squeeze. In truth, that last one is probably the last thing your dog wants as a sign of your love.

To know if you love your dog, really love your dog, I’d ask these five questions:

  • Do you give your dog the best food and medical care you can afford (even if it means giving up some luxuries)?
  • Do you allow your dog to make choices when it’s safe to do so?
  • Do you give your dog the mental and physical exercise he needs every day?
  • Do you avoid situations that make your dog uncomfortable unless you have an action plan for slowly desensitizing him to them?
  • Are you committed to giving your dog the best life possible for his entire life?

And if you answer yes to the questions in Pam’s “Do You Love Your Dog Test,” then your dog can’t help but love you. Even if he doesn’t pass the love test set out for him on some video.

Honey the golden retriever with Pam at Ithaca Falls.

I think I love you. Except under all that clothing, I’m not really sure who you are.

Your Turn: How do you show your love for your dog? And how does your dog show he loves you?

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  1. I really love your amended questions.

  2. I am as guilty as the next person for anthropomorphizing my dogs. Although they don’t ‘pass the love test’, I know they love me. How do I show my love for them? Since the first week of November, one of my dogs has been recovering from knee surgery. Because he’s needed to be as quiet as possible, I have rarely left his side. For the first two weeks, we slept in the living room, taking turns in a reclining lawn chair by his bed. No dinners out, and only one of us could leave to attend the holiday family parties.

    Of course, all this attention on the ‘patient’ meant extra hugs and cuddles for our second dog, to keep things balanced. I did it all gladly, without complaint, because it was what they needed, and I love them.

  3. I would say it is pretty obvious as we all have so much fun together. I would guess if people see us out walking, working on our nose work, tracking, or just being silly in the yard, it would be evident in our faces and actions we all love each other and hanging out with each other.

  4. Yay – Blueberry passes the love test – all four questions! She actually comes to me once she is done eating to get a full body massage or at least will press herself against me until my hands are free to massage her. Do other dogs not do that? I’m trying to remember if my Shadow was like that, but I don’t think she really was.

    While I don’t always take Blueberry for a walk every single day – if I can’t – I try to find another way to provide entertainment for her at the house so that I don’t totally ruin her day. She loves nose work, so that’s usually my go to distraction for her when I am not up to a walk for whatever reason. And yeah, I often joke that Blueberry eats better than I do and usually has more food in the fridge than I. :)

  5. Your questions make much more sense! And yes, I do all I can to make life the best possible for CindyLu. And she loves in return. It’s one of the best things in life, if you ask me!

  6. I would say that I love these dogs, and they love me back. The full belly question though, that’s a tough one.

  7. Such a great question and thinking point! I don’t have any doubts that my dogs love me, even though they don’t always do everything I want. Neither does my husband, so I can’t hold that against them. But I feel that they do want to please me, and not just because I provide food, water and walks. If they didn’t care for me, I don’t think that would matter to them. And truthfully, when they look at me, I feel their love in their gaze. They are happy to be with me whether we’re going out hiking or curling up on the couch together, and they could choose to be anywhere, but they choose to be with me. That’s enough for me!

  8. Beautiful questions. Beautiful thoughts. I know I can disappoint my two and I think that is the overwhelming part of having dogs in your life. They don’t dwell in the disappointment even though I can (if I have to work late for instance). For that forgiveness that they seem to have never ending shares of, yep, I work hard to give them a good life and good care and yep, I think we all love each other.

  9. Your amended questions are much better :)

  10. Kol pretty much worships the ground I walk on. (I joke about his sass, but he’s seriously enamoured with me.) Felix on the other hand? He makes me work for it, but I know he loves me too. The moments when he tells me always bring a tear to my eye. Just tonight, he was romping around and playing with toys, then out of nowhere he bounded over to me, snuggled up for just a second and licked my nose, then bolted back to his toys. Adorable. I adore him.

  11. Sherman loves me and passes the love test. Leroy loves me but doesn’t pass the love test. I pass all of your love test questions so I think we’re good :)

  12. I know I love my two, hell I put up with the idiot ex just to spend time with BD. Neither of my two would fully pass the test but that hasn’t for one second made me consider that they don’t love me. They both are completely fine with being left, which according to the video shows they trust me to come back and on some levels I think I would rather have my boys trust me than love me.

  13. It makes me sad to think how many people watched that video and felt that their dog was only capable of some diminished level of love. Your post captures a much more realistic way of thinking about the ways our dogs love us. Ty only gets 2 out of 4 on the love test, and yet I know he loves us in his own way. I’ve always said he was a cat on the inside and a dog on the outside. If they developed a list of questions to determine if your cat loves you, I’m sure Ty would pass that one!

  14. Kenzie passed the love test, but Cali wouldn’t have, but I absolutely know that she loved us and the feeling was mutual. Who needs a stinkin’ test anyways? I know that Kenzie is a daddy’s girl . .but I’m okay with that – he’s the one that takes her out to play in the rain, and she loves him for it! :) Your amended questions make much more sense!

  15. I agree with Amy, I wonder how many people watched that and thought that their dog does not love them?

    I’m pretty sure my dogs mostly want to go out after they eat dinner, but I sure as heck know they love me. That is evident to me in so many countless ways and I absolutely adore them right back, even if one of them will steal food directly off my plate.

    Sampson loves to be touched. He will lie next to me all night long and anytime I wake up, I will reach out and stroke his head. He will cuddle closer to nudge my hand for more. The flip side of this is Delilah. She too will lie next to me all night long, but if I wake up and reach to stroke her, she will growl. She doesn’t seek the same thing Sampson does, yet I know she knows she is loved and I know she loves me in return.

    I don’t think love fits a ‘cookie cutter.’ What one person considers love, another might not. We are all different with different needs and what works for some does not always work for others. I think the same holds true between dogs and owners.

  16. I pick up and carry my dogs’ poop without even a thought to it being gross. That’s love, right?

    When guests play fun games with them in the yard, my dogs eventually and always end up returning to lean against me. That’s love, right?

  17. We’ve got nothing but love here in Doodleville – from both directions :)

  18. We pass all of those questions, both his and yours. :)

    Monty and Harlow

  19. Jodi and I think alike, in this and many other ways. Callie, Shadow, and Ducky all love both of us and Sam and I adore them to bits. We “don’t need no stinkin” tests to tell us that much. We’ve spent half our life savings on these dogs between vet visits, surgeries, special foods, toys, and training; but I’d rather have an empty wallet than an empty heart. My life would never be the same if I didn’t have my furry babies.

  20. dogs do show love in different ways, just like people. We have a puppy mill rescue. We are the first people she has ever spent time around or tried to trust at all…her ways of showing love are very subtle and things we would totally take for granted in our other dogs.