This Is What Happens to Your Dog When You Say “I Love You”

It's not only humans who like to hear those three little words.

One of the age-old questions in the dog versus cat debate is whether dogs truly feel affection towards their people, or if it’s all a ploy to get a lifetime supply of free food and massages (in the form of petting and belly rubs). Thanks to a new study conducted by Canine Cottages—a site for booking dog-friendly cottages in the United Kingdom—we now have a better idea of the answer. Here’s what we learned from their research.

The doggy data

In order to get a better idea of how dogs physically respond to different forms of affection from humans, the team at Canine Cottages put heart rate monitoring collars on four dogs and tracked them for seven days. As it turns out, receiving positive attention from their owners did make a difference in their heart rate. For example, when their humans said “I love you” to the dogs, the dogs’ heart rate went from their average of 67 beats per minute (bpm), to 98 bpm—an increase of 46 percent. The researchers also observed that the dogs’ heart rate rises by around 10 percent when they see their human after being separated from them for a period of time. If this is something you’ve noticed recently, here’s advice on how to help your pet cope with post-quarantine separation anxiety.

“It’s amazing to see that our dogs’ heart rates increase when they are told they are loved, showing excitement, and decreases when having cuddles, showing contentedness,” Shannon Keary, campaign manager at Canine Cottages told People in a statement. “It’s also interesting to see all the weird and wonderful ways our pets show their love for us. From this data, we can now officially say that our dogs really do love us!” Find out 28 ways your pet is trying to say, “I love you.”

A mutually beneficial relationship

Not only can humans make their dogs excited by telling them they’re loved, or just coming home, we can also have a calming effect. In the study, when their humans were cuddling them, the dogs’ heart rate went from 67 bpm to 52 bpm—a decrease of 23 percent. But don’t think the dogs are the only ones benefiting: According to a report from Harvard Health Publishing, there have been several studies indicating that people who have dogs have lower blood pressure than those without dogs. While this doesn’t mean there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between having a dog and improved cardiovascular health, the researcher at Harvard speculate that it’s likely because dogs have a calming effect on their humans, and also help them to get more exercise (between all the walks and games of fetch). And that’s not the only perk of having a dog. Here are 10 other incredible benefits of owning a pet, according to science.

Signs your dog loves you

Another part of the Canine Cottages study was identifying different ways dogs show affection to their owners. Some items on the list weren’t surprising, like when a dog kisses or licks their person, or greets them when they come home after being away. Others, like begging, are less obvious. Though we tend to associate begging with a dog wanting food, according to the study, in some cases they are begging for your attention and/or for you to pet them. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they want you around all the time. Here are 10 signs that your dog wants some alone time.

Along the same lines, when a pup gets on its back, it may appear as though they only want a good belly rub, but it’s also a sign that they trust you, given that it’s a vulnerable position for them. And believe it or not, when your dog chews up your favorite pair of shoes, that’s also a sign of affection—especially if they do it when you’re not around. According to the study, not only does chewing release endorphins that helps dogs relax during a tense time (of being alone with no one around to pet them), but getting a good whiff of something with your scent on it is also calming. Curious about other signs from dogs? Here are 30 things your dog wishes you knew.

Sources:

  • Canine Cottages: “Doggy Devotion: How Much Does Your Dog Love You?”
  • People: “A Dog’s Heart Rate Increases By 46% When Owner Says ‘I Love You,’ New Study Shows”
  • Harvard Health Publishing: “Having a Dog Can Help Your Heart—Literally”
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Elizabeth Yuko
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer specializing in health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University and has written for print and online publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Salon and Playboy, and has given a TEDX talk on The Golden Girls and bioethics.