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15 ways your dog says I love you

    We have a long history together, humans and dogs.

    A study of dog DNA has shown our connection – and our dogs’ domestication – has been building for more than 11,000 years.

    Dr Pontus Skoglund, co-author of the study and group leader of the Ancient Genomics laboratory at London’s Crick Institute, told BBC News: 

    “Dogs are really unique in being this quite strange thing if you think about it, when all people were still hunter gatherers, they domesticate what is really a wild carnivore – wolves are pretty frightening in many parts of the world.”

    The Maremma sheepdog, my soul breed, was described in works by ancient Roman writers Columella, Varro and Palladius. The Maremanno-Abruzzi dog appears in 14-century frescos mostly accompanying shepherds as flock guardian dogs.

    The centuries of moving flocks around Europe allowed the breed to become independent, stubborn and aloof.

    And fierce.

    Don’t forget the fierce.

    livestock guardian dog in protection mode on a hiking trail
    “You can’t see the threat I sense, Mama, but I will protect you.”

    All these are traits that make me love Bella more and more every day, but I know she loves me back. I see lots of signs that my dog loves me.

    The ways your dog says I love you

    If you notice any of these subtle – and some not so subtle – signs, your dog is probably telling you they’re happy, relaxed and loving the moment with you.

    1. Your dog wags her tail when she sees you

    Well, derp. This is one of the most obvious signs your dog is happy to see you. (Please note: the tail wag can also be a warning sign of anxiety.) Bella doesn’t have a vigorous tail wag. Sometimes it’s a little flick, other times it’s a bit of a thump-thump on the floor. Either way, she senses me in the room and happily acknowledges me. (Oh yeah, this happens without her opening her eyes.)

    2. Your dog makes eye contact with you

    Like a tail wag, eye contact has a few different meanings. Maybe it’s dinner and she’s trying to let you know. Maybe he’s just a confident good boy. It can mean, though, that your dog loves you, trusts you and wants to bond with you. And since you both get a heapin’, helpin’ dose of oxytocin by making eye contact with your dog, it seems like a good idea to get lost in those puppy dog eyes. 

    one eyed pitbull mix looking up toward camera because eye contact is one of the ways your dog says I love you
    Gooey love from a one-eyed Maverick

    3. Your dog is your shadow

    When dogs see you as their two-legged security blanket, they want to be near you. Your presence in the same physical space allows your dog to let go of the stress of not knowing where you are. As I write this, Bella is no more than 4 feet away from me. Of course, now I don’t remember if that’s because of me. Sometimes, I can be a little needy for her, too.

    4. Your dog waits for you

    This might be a Maremma thing. Please tell me if you have seen it in your dogs. Since the livestock guardian dog’s primary job is to keep an eye out for his flock, he tends to take the lead in pack walks. Shep did this masterfully. When we were in places where off-leash hiking was safe and permitted, he would trot ahead, make sure everything was OK, then turn around and wait for me. It was as if he was saying, “Coast is clear, Mama.” The first time Bella did it – 2019 in British Columbia – my heart damn near burst open.

    Maremma sheepdog hiking in snow in K-Country, Alberta
    Shep waiting for me in 2010
    Maremma sheepdog hiking near Radium, British Columbia
    Bella waiting for me in 2019

    5. Your dog is thrilled when you come home

    If I’m out at a session at an epic location in Spokane, it’s inevitable that I will get a text message from my husband with a forlorn Maremma sheepdog laying at the base of our front window. But the second I pull in the yard, she is alert with a full tail wag, bright eyes and a big, beautiful smile.

    6. Your dog perks up when he hears your name

    It’s one thing to train a dog to respond to his own name. But what about your name? In our house, I’m “Mama” and my husband is “Dad.” (Do not come at me about anthropomorphizing my dog, it will not end well for you.) Further to No. 5, though, some days I don’t even have to pull in the yard for Bella to be waiting for me. My husband just calls out “Mama’s home” if I’ve texted him from a few blocks away.

    7. Your dog wants to play with you

    Zoomies are fun! Of course that’s about all we get out of a Maremma as far as play time goes. My husband expresses a little jealousy for friends who have dogs that play fetch or tug-of-war. When dogs spring into play mode, it’s because they want to play with you, because they feel close to you. You are their playmate, not just the two-legged thing that delivers dinner.

    dog smiling at camera
    Newt letting us know it’s playtime

    8. Your dog lets you kiss him

    Tread carefully here. Your dog may not want you putting your big ugly mug right up in her nose. Animal behaviorist and prolific author Amy Shojai says dogs must be taught what kisses mean. If she doesn’t know, you could cause stress or confusion. We associated kisses with treats early on so now Bella fully understands “kisses for Mama” and “kisses for Dad.” She will give us little bumps on the nose or mouth. Maybe she doesn’t understand but oh well. It’s really my ego trip, isn’t it?

    white boxer kissing a woman in the face
    Sweet Bam and Stephanie

    9. Your dog gives you her paw

    We call it The Maremma Paw. Great Pyrenees lovers call it The Pyr Paw. It seems to be a pretty universal sign of “You’re mine, human” among those of us owned by livestock guardian dogs. No doubt, it’s a sign your dog loves you among many breeds. We pet our dogs to show them affection, they want to respond in kind by putting their paws on us.

    10. Your dog sleeps near you

    In the bed, at the foot of the bed, curled up next to you in the tent. Dogs like to sleep with their pack. Wanting to be close at night – when we’re all vulnerable – is a sign your dog enjoys being with you … loves you.

    11. Your dog knows when you’re sick or sad

    I remember when I experienced my first breakup. I was crying in my 17-year-old bedroom and our rough collie Princess used her nose to push my door open. She put her head on my lap to comfort me as I cried into her beautiful mane. Bella is no different. When I had COVID last month, she did not leave my side. She wanted to protect me and comfort me … and love me.

    12. Your dog leans into you

    Not Sheryl Sandberg-style. Doggy-style. No wait … forget what I said. Shep was a leaner. Whenever we were approached by someone – let’s say on the walking path – Shep would cross in front of me and lean into my legs. My friend told me was protecting me from what he may have perceived as a threat. And there is no greater sign of love from an LGD.

    13. Your dog makes the best little spoon

    Don’t tell my husband but I am secretly a snuggler. As long as you have four legs and flowy hair. And Bella has her own bed. I mean, we have a spare bedroom that has been used by guests once since I moved in eight – EIGHT?!?!? – years ago. She claimed it. It’s hers. When she’s napping, I crawl in next to her and she lets me spoon her. She trusts me to spoon her. And what is at the root of trust? Love, people. Love.

    14. Your dog rolls over for you

    We call it “Vagina Up.” Yeah, look, we’re a bit edgy. Or at least I’ve made him that way. When a dog rolls over and shows you her belly, she’s allowing herself to be vulnerable. And it goes back to that whole trust and love thing in No. 13.

    15. Your dog doesn’t leave

    OK, sure, there’s locked doors and gates and everything but when Bella was a puppy, she couldn’t wait to beat feet and become an LGD version of The LIttlest Hobo. That’s why “off leash” became scary words in my vocabulary. Over time, though, we have developed such a deep, soulful connection that I know I could open the front door, show her freedom and she’s going to look at me as if to say, “Bitch, why are you heating the neighborhood in December? I’m not going anywhere.”

    woman kissing her dog on the nose
    The sweetest love
    Photo credit: Marika Moffitt of Soul Dog Creative

    All around the circle

    I know we like to say our dogs’ love is unconditional. I kinda think Bella’s love is a bit conditional … conditional on treats, adventures and my own shows of affection toward her. 

    Because I am pretty sure she’s part human.

    Like more human than I could have ever put forth unto the world in the form of a child. Nobody would have wanted that anyway.

    This week’s topic in the worldwide pet photographers blog circle was about the bond we share with our dogs. Now I want you to click this link and go read about Jessica Wasik with Bark & Gold Photography in Pittsburgh and her eight winter activities to strengthen your bond with your dog.

    I can’t wait to read it. Because you know I love snow and winter!

    When you get to the end of Jessica’s post, hit the next link and keep going through the circle until you get back to my lighthearted look at 15 ways your dog says I love you.

    That’s when you know you’re home.

    Right where you belong.


    Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

    6 thoughts on “15 ways your dog says I love you”

    1. Great list, none of our dogs are flight risks either – a wide open front gets much the same look from our three – something along the lines of “Why don’t you close that and get us a cookie” LOL.

    2. I love that you touched on the history of humans & dogs! And to think, Bella’s ancestors have been untouched in look and job for centuries!

      Throughout the list with Blue the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog puppy (another guardian / watchdog type dog!)

      1. Tag wag, yes at variable heights & velocities.
      2. Eye contact, yes
      3. My shadow… mostly yes, unless he’s super comfy on the couch
      4. Waits for you – YES! My boyfriend & I took him out to a park and let him explore on a long line. He’d head up the path, get a little ahead of us, then turn look at us and wait a tiny bit then continue on. (He’s 5 months so he’s got busy puppy stuff to do haha!)
      5. Sorta. He’s crated and we haven’t made a fuss about greetings or leavings, but if he’s loose in the house & I’m arriving home he’s quite jovial.
      6. uh… he knows my boyfriend’s name, maybe he knows I’m “mama”
      7. He sure does!
      8. I can kiss him & he kisses me (though it tends to feel more like a puppy trying to produce a snack with the nibbles… or he bites more than kisses haha!)
      9. Paw is given when he is demanding more food… or in shake hands er paws!
      10. Sleep is variable – crated, gated, on the couch and I’m typically close in eyesight & touching range. Sometimes he sleeps right next to me or rests a head on me, sometimes he needs his own cushion or couch.
      11. Haven’t been sick or very sad yet, but Blue is rather young still so this could happen in his adult years.
      12. No leans yet!
      13. Spoon with a bitey puppy who thinks snuggling = wrestling? HA!
      14. Does sleeping on his back count? He does roll on his back for wrestling & you can pet his belly (usually it activates his teeth)
      15. He’s not a rush out the door type so not sure how actively he’d want to leave. We’re not going to test it though…

    3. Listen, any person who has spent any amount of time with you and Bella can attest to the fact that she loves you! It’s undeniable! And, it’s also very apparent that you love her back as fiercely (see what I did there?) as she loves you. The bond you two have is beautiful to witness. And I love that she protects you. She is truly a special dog.

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