Many people say ~ Dogs love us unconditionally.
However, others argue that dogs are not capable of love, much less unconditional love. What seems like love to us is only behavioral conditioning. Is this true? What does unconditional dog love mean?
When people say that dogs love us unconditionally, they are referring to how some dogs continue to seek human company, attention, and affection, even after being hit, beaten, neglected, and abused by us.
This does not mean that dogs love all people unconditionally, but that they have the capacity to forgive, forget, and love us again even after going through some tough times.
This does not mean that dogs do not feel pain or do not suffer from pain, nor does it mean that they are unaffected by abuse. It only means that they have the ability to bounce back if we give them the chance and help them to do so.
Do Our Dogs Truly Love Us?
However, is this an indication of real love or is this merely conditioning? Do our dogs lie next to us, lick us, and show us doggy affection because they have learned that it will get them food and other resources? Or do they truly love and enjoy our company?
Some researchers argue that it is all conditioning, and that …
“If we moved our dogs to our neighbor’s house and that neighbor gave the dogs as much as we gave them and in the same motivational forms, I believe our dogs would adapt to the new life and would become as loyal to the neighbor as they were to us.”
~~[Fred Metzger, State College veterinarian]
However, other scientists disagree. In fact, recent MRI data (dog brain scans) from scientists at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia show that dogs do experience feelings of love and affection. In particular, the MRI data is different when a dog is given treats by a stranger and by someone that they have a strong bond with.
What do you think? Do our dogs truly love us or is it just conditioning?
What Is Love?
There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.
Whether our dog loves us, will greatly depend on what love means to us.
I have a close relative, whom I will call Aunt Marie.
Aunt Marie is someone who is very interested in measuring love. She keeps track of whether her children, as well as nephews and nieces call her on her Birthdays and other special occasions. Do they send her cards? Do they call? Do they call on the day itself, or do they forget and call too early or too late? Do they call other aunts and uncles? What about gifts?
As far as I can tell, Aunt Marie uses these behaviors and others to calculate who loves her, whether they love her more than another aunt or uncle, and whether it is truly love for her or something else, e.g. love of her money.
Not surprisingly, Aunt Marie is not a very happy person.
Very frequently, she comes up with reasons as to why people do not love her. “They are only calling me or sending me cards and presents out of duty”, she declares. “They are only doing this to get my money.”
What is love to you? Is it blind loyalty? Does it have to be perfect and free from other motivations?
We can never truly know what another person or animal is thinking. Like Aunt Marie, we can decide to continually measure love and deny the love of others, or we can enjoy the moment and love others back.
Love is not something that is easily defined and therefore, it is not something that can be measured. However, it is there, and it is powerful, and it is something to be enjoyed. Like us, it may not be perfect, but perfection is not necessary.
De-Humanizing Our Dogs
Some people insist that dogs are incapable of love, because they are animals. These statements always include some dire warning about how attributing these “human feelings” to our dogs is dangerous because it is humanizing our dogs, and this will lead to bad behavior and an out of control dog.
I fail to see how believing that our dogs are capable of love is detrimental to anyone. Does that mean that their love is exactly like ours, probably not. However, why should that matter? Why is dog love unworthy of the name?
In the dog training world, there is a fair amount of discussion around humanizing dogs, but very little around de-humanizing dogs. I suppose because dogs are clearly not human, we assume that de-humanizing them is only right and natural.
However, dehumanization is much much more than just an attribution of species.
Dehumanization or dehumanisation describes the denial of “humanness” to others …
It is conceptually related to infrahumanization, deligitimization, moral exclusion and objectification. Dehumanization occurs across several domains, is facilitated by status, power, and social connection, and results in behaviors like exclusion, violence, and support for violence against others.
dehumanization – the act of degrading people with respect to their best qualities;
dehumanisation, degradation, debasement – changing to a lower state (a less respected state)
~~[The Free Dictionary]
By dehumanizing our dogs, they automatically become second class citizens, therefore, it becomes more acceptable for us to hit them, shock them, or choke them into submission.
Indeed, we do not want to overly humanize our dogs, because that may lead to mis-communication and misinterpretation of their behaviors, which will hinder the creation of a positive and healthy dog-human bond.
Similarly, we do not want to overly dehumanize our dogs, because that may lead to the same detrimental results.
Training and bonding with our dog does not just involve our dog, it involves us as well, in very big part. Helping my dog improve his behavior, also helped me improve my own behavior. I learned to better control my temper, to show more empathy, to be more patient, to let things go, and to enjoy the moment.
De-humanizing our dogs demands everything from our dog, and nothing from us. It is the opposite of love.
Do My Dogs Really Love Me Unconditionally?
I don’t know.
I think the more important question to ask myself is whether I love my dogs. And the answer to that is absolutely.
Do I love all my dogs equally and in exactly the same way? No. But that does not mean that I do not love each of them very much.
Similarly, I do not require my dogs to love me and only me. My dogs enjoy being with friends and neighbors who give them affection and treats, but that does not cheapen their love for me.
I love my dogs, I want to keep them happy, safe, and healthy. When they are happy, safe, and healthy, that makes me very happy too.
I love spending time with my dogs, and I love it when they come over to be with me, whatever their motivations.
That is more than enough for me.
I have a poodle chihuahua rescue
Who can be really gross if you get grossed out don’t read the post.
After my 13 year old poodle passed away I wanted another
So my husband one day happened to find a curly 2 month pup on the side of the road. He called it a mexican poodle lol cause of the chihuahua in him.
His name is Hilario and he is obsessed with me. The first weird thing he did was when I made a potty stop on a hiking trail. He was not even a year yet and off leash, I squatted down to pee and didn’t notice him rolling himself in the shower until he was covered.
I said a stern no but didn’t make a deal out of it I thought cause he was a pup and I was his new mom he was trying to smell like me to endear himself more to me.
However now at 2 years old he still likes scenting himself. He rolls on dirty underwear he has eaten the crotch out and swallowed it! I remember waking up at night and he was sound asleep wearing my underwear like a mask the crotch part tight over his nose. Now dirty laundry is kept out of reach.
He has gotten better now that he’s not a pup but I still have to be careful with used pads or he will proudly rub war paint on his face and I still keep undies out of reach.
When we take a walk in the woods and I need a potty break I have to tie him and walk away with him leashed or he will run back to drink and roll.
My dog is castrated it was done when he was still a few months.
He does obey me and is an angel with kids.
He does have separation anxiety in certain situations
He is social and friendly with dogs
I try giving him a variety of toys but nothing interests him.
Food does not motivate him he is not a big eater, only pats and being held.
I tried putting boiled chicken skin in the hole of a squeaky bone. Even though he likes chicken skin he did not put any effort in getting the treat he dint whine he just didn’t care. He preferred sitting next to me then trying to get the treat on the floor, even though I was right there in the same room.
It’s not much of a problem anymore I just close the bathroom and don’t let dirty
Laundry on the floor. Mostly I want to know how weird is my dog being and should I instill more discipline. Should I consider this a quirk or an obedience problem?
It also bothers me the only way I can entertain him is walks and ear scratches. When it rains he gets bored and does not enjoy fetch or chew toys.
Hello there Shibashake! I’ve been reading up on your website for a few weeks now to prepare for my first Shiba Inu(which I will be getting June 12). And I was wondering if there were any tips/articles you could give to me for training, caring, exercising, and etc. Cheers!
Congratulations on your upcoming Shiba puppy!
Structure and consistency were very important for Sephy during puppyhood. I set up a fixed routine and a consistent set of rules. He was also extremely mouthy, so doing bite inhibition exercises and no-bite conditioning exercises were very useful.
How I trained my puppy.
How I deal with puppy biting.
How I set up rules and structure.
Puppy socialization was also an important part of Sephy’s early life. We did a couple of SIRIUS puppy classes with him, and then some additional classes at our local SPCA. With the Sibes we also did supervised puppy playgroups at a good local doggy daycare center. I made sure that the classes and daycare check for puppy vaccination records to ensure that all attending puppies are in good health and are on a proper vaccination schedule. I also check for quality and experience of the people in-charge.
ASPCA article on puppy socialization.
More on dog socialization.
Sephy does best with resource control training methods. He did not respond well to physical or aversive based training. I also did desensitization exercises to get him used to grooming and touching.
I write more about my experiences with Sephy here.
Most of all, remember to have fun, enjoy the puppy smell, and take lots of pictures!! 😀
What books do you recommend for reading about training a shiba inu??
With Sephy I went to breed specific websites and forums for Shiba Inu specific information.
The books that I read were more on general dog behavior and dog training. I read books by Ian Dunbar, Patricia McConnell, Karen Pryor, and Suzanne Clothier. Suzanne Clothier’s book, “Bones Would Rain from the Sky”, is probably more on dog relationships, but it really changed my way of thinking. Most of these people also have websites, so I would check our their website articles first and see if you like their style.
More on where I get information on dog behavior and dog training.
Danny T says
Beautiful dogs, great read.
I feel like dogs do know who we are individually and love us. My Akita will start crying when he heres me or my mom on the answering machine, and no one else. He knows our voice and he shows that he misses us by doing so. He knows the rest of my family well but since he grew up around my mom and I he shows the extra emotion.
And I’m saying he doesn’t cry when anyone else calls, just us since we raised him.
jen jones says
I have a 4 year old 1/2 lab and 1/2 coon hound. Last summer he was attacked by an American wolf dog. Our dog was tied up and in our yard and the other dog got loose and attacked him. We didn’t know if he was going to make it or not. But he finally came out of it. Well ever since then he as became for aggressive and more protective of all of us. We he gets out sometimes, which that happens with every dog, he runs and runs and we have a hard time catching him but he also either finds another dog or a cat and attackes them. He has been in 3 dog fights this summer and 1 cat fight which was just the other night. thank god he hasn’t killed one yet or done bad harm to the other dogs. Why might this be? and how can I correct it. Would a shock collar help. We are thinking about getting rid of him, putting him down, cuz we don’t want him to attack our boys. that hasn’t happened yet. we have another dog, 1/2 lab and 1/2 husky. they have had some times faught but nothing major. can you please help me. I don’t want to get rid of our dog or put him to sleep.
All dogs have prey drive. I have two Huskies who have high prey drive so I make sure to give them structured daily exercise, I supervise them well, and I make sure that my backyard is properly fenced and secure so that there are no dog escapes. As you have observed, chaining or tethering a dog unsupervised and for an extended period of time is not a good option, because that does not keep other dogs or animals from entering his space, or attacking him. In such cases, he cannot run away or properly defend himself because he is tethered.
More on how I keep my dog from escaping.
My dogs also need rules and supervision when interacting with other dogs. I desensitize my dog to other dogs in a structured and controlled setting, and I protect him from rude dogs and dogs that I know he will not get along with.
More on dog-to-dog tolerance.
He Just Wants to Say Hi.
How I help my dogs get along.
I would consult with a good professional trainer first before doing anything drastic.
If I am no longer able to keep my dog, I would do everything in my power to find him a good home. Is your dog adopted from a shelter or rescue? Can they help in training and rehoming him? Is there a local SPCA, Humane Society, or rescue group that can help?
Don’t put him down if you can’t handle his behavior find someone who will use him as a hunting dog
I adopted my 3year old Shiba 3weeks ago.Before adopting him he snarled and went after my hand twice.I have completely fallen in love with Koji.Tonight he was sleepinh next to me on the couch.He unexpectantly turned mean and bit me in the eye .He also go a hold of my hand and bit it so bad I can hardly use it. I hate to take him back to the shelter but I csn not afford to be hurt like this again.What do I do?
Dog behavior is very context dependent, so each dog and situation are different. This is why in cases of aggression, it is best and safest to get help from a good professional trainer. During my Shiba Inu’s difficult period I got help from several trainers who could observe and evaluate him within the context of his regular environment and routine. They helped me to come up with a safe plan for retraining, and also helped me with timing, energy, technique, and more.
In addition, dogs may instinctually bite when startled awake from a deep sleep. Dogs are more vulnerable while asleep, therefore Nature has provided them with protective mechanisms to keep themselves safe. My Shiba is especially sensitive about his space and safety, so he has a stronger reaction than my other dogs. One time, my Shiba was sleeping deeply by my feet and I reached down to stroke him. He was startled awake and did an air snap. Now, I always make sure to make some noise and wait until he is awake before I interact with him. I believe this is where the common saying “Let sleeping dogs lie”, comes from. 🙂
When I want to change my dog’s behavior, I start by first identifying the source of his behavior. There is usually a trigger or a reason for my dog’s behavior, and to properly change it, I need to first understand where it comes from.
More on how I change my dog’s behavior.
More on how dog’s learn.
My Shiba does best when he has a fixed routine, a consistent set of rules, consistency in training, exercise, and proper supervision.
More on the Shiba Inu personality.
More on my experiences with my Shiba Inu, Sephy.
I had some difficult times with Sephy, but I also love him very much. During our difficult time, I visited with several professional trainers and read up a lot of dog behavior. It wasn’t easy, but as I gained knowledge and controlled my own energy, things got better and better. In the process, I not only built a very special bond with Sephy, but I also changed certain things about myself that make me happier and more confident.
Amanda Gail Garrard says
hello enjoyed your article on huskies /i have a9 month old myself he spitz is a very loving n obedient dog. But one thing about having huskies we have to remember is it comes down to love / patience/ kindness n usually they willobey. These brreds are very aware /but like us they cant solve all the problems that arise n our lives therefore they need direction /so lets dont confuse obedience with misdirection.I love my dog ubconditionally .n never would hurt or scold him to make him upset;hes great!!So get o the ball read this website here for help but the true help still is what we inbreed to our pets /n the job is ours n ours alone!!!Congradulation all you Huskie owners n lovers!!They’re one heck of a breed!!!Champion dog -line terrific#!DOGfor a beautiful pet!!!ENJOYamanda garrard north carolina
Hi Shibashake, are the pictures that you use in your posts your own personal photographs? I believe that someone is using one of the photographs with the man and husky to try to scam people with offers of free huskies. The particular image(https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-y-eKHSxS5zY/U_G2CdjxrhI/AAAAAAAAABY/ORqkV7Ke5t0/w391-h390-no/6.jpg
) is being used as a Google+ profile image.
Thank you very much for the heads up.
Terry Golson says
Very nicely put, especially the bit about how the real question is, “do I love my dogs?” I don’t believe in unconditional love, but do I know the conditions that my animals put on love? No. So, love with a full heart, and ask yourself not if your dogs love you, but do you unconditionally love your dogs?
Hi Terry, Really enjoyed your site. Love the chicken cam, as well as the pictures and stories of all your animal companions. Hugs to them all! 😀
I don’t know if our dogs truly love us, but…my in-laws had a Maltese. She was sweet and got plenty of attention from all of us. My MIL and BIL(his dog really) were her main caretakers, fed and walked her and such. My FIL would play with her occasionally and pet her in his favorite recliner. When my FIL passed away she would lie in that recliner and make little crying sounds and look so lost for hours. It was heart wrenching, I mean we all missed him terribly. There were always plenty of family there to give her attention. We would sit in that recliner, pet her and it just would not perk her up like when he did it, she just wasn’t having it, she just wanted to be left alone in that chair. She missed HIM, not the petting or attention that she could get anywhere else, I think that’s love.