How Do Dogs Show Affection? 9 Surefire Signs

How Do Dogs Show Affection? 9 Surefire Signs

Ask any pet parent if they love their dog, and their answer will likely be “yes.” After all, who couldn’t love a cuddly, playful, loyal companion? Research has even shown that people are more empathetic to dogs than other humans, reinforcing the notion that people absolutely love their dogs. [1]

But do dogs love us back? And if so, how do dogs show affection? Many experts think that dogs do love their human companions, and that they will display various behaviors and body language signs when feeling affectionate toward you. 

Read on for a more in-depth look at if dogs can feel love, as well as how they show it. 

Do Dogs Feel Love?

Before we delve into some of the ways dogs show affection, let’s examine this crucial question: do dogs love their owners? 

“There is consensus that dogs and many other animals feel basic emotions like fear, sadness, and joy,” says Dr. Luciana Assis, an animal behavior expert at the University of Lincoln in the U.K. “But complex emotions like love are still being questioned. There are some who believe [that dogs feel love] and some that don’t believe.”

What science does clearly show is that dogs form strong bonds with their human companions, comparable to the bonds mothers form with their babies. [2] Research has also illustrated that dogs experience a surge in oxytocin — often called the love hormone — when socializing with their favorite humans. [3] Humans, too, will get a rise in oxytocin during these interactions, creating a kind of positive loop of affection between humans and dogs. [4]

“If this is not love, then what is love?” asks Dr. Assis.

Dr. Nicole Savageau, a veterinarian with The Vets, a mobile veterinary service in Austin, Texas, says she believes dogs are capable of experiencing many emotions, including love, but that the “depth and expression of emotions can vary between individual dogs.”

“Some [dogs] may be more demonstrative of their love and attachment than others,” says Dr. Savageau. “Additionally, the quality of the bond between a dog and its owner is influenced by the care, attention, and positive interactions they receive throughout their lives.”

How Do Dogs Show Affection? 9 Surefire Signs

What are the signs that your dog loves you? A dog might do many different things, and some signs are more obvious than others. Here’s what you should look out for, according to Dr. Savageau.


Dogs don’t just wag their tails out of excitement — they may also be showing affection. A tail-wagging dog might jump up and down or spin in circles. Or they might display a loose and relaxed wag with a wide range of motion, according to Dr. Savageau. 

“The entire back end of the dog may wag along with the tail, indicating their excitement and joy in seeing you,” she says.

However, it’s important to note that a wagging tail doesn’t always demonstrate affection. Dogs can wag their tail in a variety of circumstances, so be sure to pay attention to the big picture when a strange dog begins wagging their tail during an interaction. A low, relaxed tail wag can have a very different meaning than a tense, alert tail wag, depending on the individual dog and the context. 

Physical closeness

A dog who loves you wants to get as close as possible to you. For instance, your dog might cuddle up to you, follow you around the house, or even lean their body against you. 

“This desire for close physical proximity is a clear sign of their affection and bonding,” says Dr. Savageau. 

Eye contact

Your dog might stare at you for many different reasons. But if you catch your dog looking at you with a “soft gaze,” this could be a sign of their affection and trust, says Dr. Savageau. She adds that dilated pupils and a relaxed expression indicate a positive emotional state. 

Research has also shown that when dogs and humans lovingly gaze at each other, both will experience a rush of oxytocin. [4]

Licking and nuzzling

Do dogs lick to show affection? Yes, they do, says Dr. Savageau. 

“If your dog licks your face, hands, or other body parts gently and in a relaxed manner, it’s a way of showing their love and care,” she says. “Nuzzling or gently nudging you can also be a sign of their affectionate behavior.”

“They may also offer ‘doggy kisses’ or groom their owners, mimicking behaviors they would typically show within their canine social group,” she adds.

Relaxed body language

Relaxed body language is another way dogs show affection, albeit a less obvious one. 

“This includes a loose body posture, relaxed facial expressions, ears held back (in breeds with floppy ears), and a gentle wag of the tail,” says Dr. Savageau. “They may also exhibit a ‘happy pant’ with a relaxed mouth.”

Exposing their bellies

When dogs roll over and show their bellies, they make themselves completely vulnerable with you. This is (you guessed it!) another sign of affection. 

“It’s a way for them to invite gentle belly rubs or show their submission and affection,” says Dr. Savageau. 

Slow blinking

It’s well known that cats will slowly blink at you to show their trust and affection — but what about dogs? Dr. Savageau says some dogs may also display slow blinks to show love, opening and closing their eyes in a relaxed manner. 

“This behavior is a sign of trust and contentment,” she explains. “By slow blinking, they are showing that they feel safe and comfortable in your presence.”

Bringing you “gifts”

If your dog presents you with a toy or another object, this might be their way of saying “I love you.”

“It’s their way of offering something they value to you and is often a behavior that stems from their desire to please and make you happy,” says Dr. Savageau.

Separation anxiety

A dog experiencing separation anxiety might whine, pace, refuse food or even try to escape when they’re not with their favorite human. While this behavior is not ideal for you or your dog, it’s another surefire sign that your dog loves you. 

“This behavior reflects their emotional connection and reliance on their owners for security and comfort,” says Dr. Savageau.

If your dog does exhibit separation anxiety, speak to a veterinarian or behavioral specialist to look for ways to solve it.

How to Show Your Dog Affection Back

We know dogs show affection to us. But then there’s the question of how to show your dog affection. 

Most pet parents do this intuitively just by spending time with their dogs. But if you want to be sure that your dog feels your love, you should try “stroking, cuddling, looking in their eyes and talking to them in a very loving way,” says Dr. Assis.

Dr. Savageau also says you can show affection toward your dog by keeping them mentally stimulated and providing a safe and comfortable environment. 

“We should try to understand our dog’s behavior and how our dog communicates to us,” adds Dr. Assis. “We should also understand that although our dogs are our ‘fur babies,’ they are another species, and we should respect that.”

“Remember that each dog is unique, so it’s essential to observe and understand your dog’s individual preferences and needs,” says Dr. Savageau. “The key is to provide consistent love, attention, and care in ways that resonate with your dog’s personality and strengthen your special bond.”


  1. Levin, J., Arluke, A., & Irvine, L. (2017). “Are People More Disturbed by Dog or Human Suffering? Influence of Victim’s Species and Age.” Society & Animals, 25(1), 1-16.
  2. Karl, S., Boch, M., Zamansky, A. et al. “Exploring the dog–human relationship by combining fMRI, eye-tracking and behavioural measures.” Sci Rep 10, 22273 (2020).
  3. Kis A, Bence M, Lakatos G, Pergel E, Turcsán B, Pluijmakers J, Vas J, Elek Z, Brúder I, Földi L, Sasvári-Székely M, Miklósi A, Rónai Z, Kubinyi E. “Oxytocin receptor gene polymorphisms are associated with human directed social behavior in dogs (Canis familiaris).” PLoS One. 2014 Jan 15;9(1):e83993. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083993. PMID: 24454713; PMCID: PMC3893090.
  4. Miho Nagasawa et al., “Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds.” Science 348,333-336(2015). DOI:10.1126/science.1261022 

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