Your dog is your companion, your buddy and maybe even your best friend. You love your dog, and your dog certainly seems to love you unconditionally. He's always happy to see you, no matter what you look or feel like. You can just be yourself, and that’s always good enough for your dog. Your companion sticks by your side no matter what, nuzzles you and greets you with enthusiasm every time you come home. But does that mean your dog loves you? The debate on that one is lively.
Don’t discount what author Jon Katz has to say about dogs just because his name sounds like “cats.” Katz, the author of “A Dog Year” and other books about life with dogs, says in the “Chicago Tribune” that dogs form strong attachments to people, but they don’t have feelings of love; they “trick us into thinking that they love us.” Dogs, according to Katz, have evolved to respond to people who feed them and give them attention.
Fred Metzger, a Pennsylvania veterinarian and guest lecturer in animal sciences at Penn State, agrees with Katz. Metzger doesn’t believe that dogs feel love, but that they invest in people to be fed, paid attention to and played with. If you moved your dog next door, and your neighbor treated him as well as you do, your dog would respond to your neighbor in the same manner he does to you, says Metzger.
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of multiple books on animal emotions, says that dogs do feel love. He compares the reaction people get from their dogs when they come home -- sheer happiness often accompanied by tail wagging, twirling, and moaning sounds -- to what lovers feel when they are reunited after even the briefest separation. Dogs act the same way because they feel love, according to Masson. Masson wonders whether dogs have feelings that humans can’t understand in the same way that dogs can smell odors that people can’t.
People who work intensely with dogs, such as dog trainers -- including one of the most famous trainers of all, Cesar Millan -- often believe that dogs can love. Millan says he has no doubt they feel love. He agrees with Masson, however, that a dog’s emotions are probably different from a human’s. Pennsylvania dog trainer, Leslie Burgard, believes that dogs love humans unconditionally similar to the way parents love their children. Susan B. Eirich, founder of the Earthfire Institute, looks to primatologist Jane Goodall’s research, which shows that social animals, including dogs, need emotions to keep their social bonds intact. Marc Bekoff, a behavioral biologist at the University of Colorado, concurs, and told “Modern Dog” magazine that social animals need emotions to keep the group together.