We can all name the cartoonishly obvious signs of doggy affection: slobbery kisses from forehead to chin, or exuberant tail wags that involve the entire back half of the dog. Even a mouthing dog might be showing his eager affection—some retrievers seem to feel that all of life’s most wonderful moments are more meaningful with something, anything, in their mouths.
But dog affection isn’t always as obvious as you’d think! Learn some ways dogs show their affection, how you can show it back in dog language, some of the most affectionate dog breeds, and what to do if your dog is not affectionate.
7 Ways Dogs Show Love
Even if your dog isn’t an exuberantly waggy licker, you’re treated to signs of affection from your dog every day. Some signs are subtler, and they’re easy to miss unless you know what to look for. Here are seven ways dogs “say” they love you.
1. They Make Eye Contact
In general, dogs don’t like eye contact. Prolonged eye contact is a sign of aggression in dogs that can spell trouble. So when your dog meets your eyes for a few seconds with a soft, relaxed expression on his face, it’s a clear sign he’s comfortable with you and confident you’d never do him harm. (Keep in mind, few dogs will sustain eye contact beyond a few seconds, even with those they love.)
2. They Lean on You
When you’re sitting on the couch and your dog leans his body weight against your legs, he’s showing his affection. Of all the cozy spots for your dog in the house, there’s no place more comforting than right next to you. Pressing his weight against you reassures him as he rests or takes a nap. This is more common in large dog breeds than in toy breeds, who are routinely held safely in your arms or sitting cozy in your lap.
3. They Snuggle With Your Dirty Laundry
If you have to check your dog’s bed or crate for missing dirty socks and T-shirts every laundry day, take it for the compliment it is. Your dog knows your smell and finds comfort in it when you’re out of sight. For a dog with separation anxiety, it may be helpful to consciously place a few items of unwashed clothes near him when you leave him home alone.
4. They Lick Your Face
Dog kisses usually mean exactly what you guess they do—your dog thinks you’re the cat’s meow. Licking is an instinctual canine behavior that soothes and deepens social bonds between mother dogs and their pups, and among littermates. When you become a member of your dog’s pack, he’ll lick your face to strengthen your relationship, whether you’re a fan of dog kisses, or you duck to avoid the slobber.
5. They Wag Their Tails.
A fast, full-circle wag that gets your dog’s entire backside involved is a clear sign he’s overjoyed to see you. But other tail wags can indicate hesitation, agitation, or even dog hostility. Depending on the circumstances, slow wags and stiff wags may indicate your dog is feeling anxious or he’s on the offensive.
6. They Know When You’re Sad.
Does your dog snuggle close when you are crying or sad and seem to understand there’s something wrong? As pack animals, dogs look out for each other in good times and bad. When you’re having a bad day, your dog instinctively wants to help you feel better.
7. They Share Their Toys With You
If your dog drops his favorite toys at your feet, bounds around, and looks at you expectantly, he’s telling you he wants to play. But when he drops his toys near you and walks off for a rest in his bed, let it warm your heart. Your dog is sharing his treasures with you—his favorite person.
How to Show Your Dog Affection
You love your dog—so much that you want to make sure your affection makes him feel warm and fuzzy, not just you. Fantastic! Now that we’ve done some dog-to-human translation, let’s take it in the opposite direction. Here are some ways you can say “I love you” back, speaking in your dog’s own language.
Pet Your Dog Pleasantly
Rib-thumping pats that a dog turns to nose at… claps on the top of his head that make him blink and back away… bear hugs that make him feel trapped… not everything we mean as physical affection comes across that way to every dog.
Okay, so some hardy sporting breeds don’t seem to mind those genial rib-thumping pats, and might even stick around for the well-meant thwacks on the noggin. But here are some types of physical affection that are almost always popular. See what your four-legged friend thinks of these:
- Scratches at the front of the chest
- Belly rubs
- Ear massages
- Long pets down the side of the body
Speak Warmly to Your Dog
Have you ever tried to cheerfully praise a dog with the “wrong” words, saying e.g., “what a bad, baaaad dog… he’s so bad…”? It works! He doesn’t care what you say, as long as you say it with warmth and good cheer.
Your dog pays a lot more attention to the tone of your voice than to the words themselves. After all, dogs’ vocalizations to each other rely on tone, not specific words. So if you’re happy and loving, let him hear it in your voice.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Just like your dog might be tuned in to your mood—your good and bad days, your cheerful and troubled moments—let him feel that you’re tuned in to his, too.
I once overheard a trainer explain that whenever he’s out and about with his dog, he is consistently aware of his companion—in the same way, he realized, as he had been when he took his grandmother to a busy carnival that weekend. He didn’t keep an eagle eye on grandma every second, but maintained open awareness of the situation around them, and took the time to check in every so often to see how she was doing with the crowds and all the walking. Your own mileage may vary (like your own dog and your own grandmother), but your role is to be tuned in to how he is doing. Your dog will notice when you are tuned in with him.
When to Give Your Dog Affection
There’s no need to worry about when to give your dog affection if your relationship is humming along just fine: Be affectionate whenever it suits both of you. The free flow of loving feelings is so rewarding. But if you’re working on trouble spots to make your relationship with your dog stronger, or if your dog is pushier than you like in demanding affection, you might have him politely follow a simple command first. Check with a trainer to see if this would be a good idea for you.
Some Breeds Tend to Be More Affectionate Than Others
The most affectionate dog breeds are known for demonstrating their love unreservedly at every opportunity. Snuggles and cuddles, licks and wags: If you thrive on displays of affection, one of these breeds known for wearing their big hearts on their sleeves might be a good fit for you:
- Beauty and charm? That’s a Golden Retriever for you. These guys love showing their love…and they seem to have a bottomless supply.
- The Labrador Retriever has been America’s sweetheart for decades, and his natural affection has a lot to do with that record.
- Sporting dogs with a lap-dog stature and outsized charm, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels seem made to express loving delight, and they do so at every opportunity.
- When your Pug is happy to see you, he doesn’t keep it a secret. These small clowns are known for their outgoing, affectionate natures.
- Less clown-like and gregarious than the other breeds on this list, American Staffordshire Terriers are meltingly sweet and affectionate.
If you are looking for the perfect breed for you, take a look at our dog breed selector for more ideas. These are definitely not the only breeds who can claim a lot of affectionate members. And every dog is his own individual, regardless of breed: Some individuals of the above breeds are more affectionate than average, and some less. But on the whole, these breeds have certainly wagged their way to well-deserved affectionate reputations.
My Dog Is Not Affectionate
Maybe your dog is more the strong, silent type. Perhaps he needs his personal space and cuddling simply makes him tense.
If you have a dog who is not demonstrative with his affection, remember that still waters run deep. Even if your dog isn’t one to cover you in slobber or sprain his tail from “over-wag,” that doesn’t mean you don’t hold the top spot in his heart.
Look out for the particular ways your dog naturally shows you he cares: Does he prefer to lie in the same room with you? Occasionally offer a single lick or proffer a paw that he doesn’t offer to people outside his pack? Does he sometimes lean on your knees, or bring you his toys, or does he keep an eye on your feelings? Deepen your bond with him by meeting him where he is. If his “love language” is going for a run or chasing a ball that you throw, doing those activities with him is a way to show him you care.
Whether your dog makes a cozy nest in your lap or prefers the glow he gets from watching you from across the room, he shows you how much you mean to him in his own special ways. Keep your eyes open and you’ll come to appreciate—and reciprocate—his natural approach to affection.