We all show our dogs our affection. From hugs to kisses, from petting to play, we love to make sure our canine companions know how much we care about them. Our dogs tirelessly return this affection in their own particular ways. These behaviors are a natural method of communication between humans and dogs, however, the ways in which humans and dogs show one another their affection could not be any more different.
Affectionate behaviors that are particular to a species are known as "affiliative behaviors". Affiliative behaviors are any sort of behavior that is enacted with the intent of supporting or improving one's individual union with others or which is connected more so with a drive to build, upkeep, and improve close individual partnerships with others.
When it comes to affiliate behaviors that are canine-specific, you can bet that hugging, kissing, and cuddling are not among them. In fact, for many dogs, these gestures of affection can be annoying or threatening. You may see your dog duck away, or her ears flatten back. Another good indicator of a dog that is uncomfortable with human forms of affection is a stiffened body and wide, "whale" eyes.
Here are a few affectionate behaviors that you can rely on as indicators of just how much your dog treasures you.
1. Allogrooming. Regular licking rituals are common to many species of social animals, including dogs. If your dog is gently licking your hand, arm, leg, or face, it is because she wants you to know just how much she cares.
2. Play. If your dog is regularly bringing you her toys, offering you that all-too-tempting play bow, and in the case of my Cocker Spaniel Gus, standing by the back door and shifting his weight from foot to foot, your dog wants to play! This is one of the most common ways our dogs show us their affection.
3. Closeness. Does your dog follow you from room to room? Sleep at your feet when you're watching TV on the couch? Curl up on the bottom corner of your bed, just close enough to cover your feet? These, too, are all signs of just how much our dogs love us.
Remember this the next time you go to give your dog a big hug and she backs away from you with uncertainty, or you swoop in for a kiss and your dog leans dramatically in the other direction. It's not that they don't love you or want to be the object of your every affection. It's simply that they show it differently. Instead of that hug, grab a favorite toy and head out into the backyard with your furry friend. They'll get the message, loud and clear.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.