Full-body wags. Sitting with devotion in the window until you pull into the driveway. Stepping boldly between you and any possible threat. Your dog shows her affection and loyalty in countless ways. But why are dogs so loyal to their people? It’s a question dog lovers have long pondered, and one scientists are researching more often.
The most straightforward answer is that dogs are loyal because we provide them delicious food and shelter from the elements. While this no doubt plays a big part, we do this for cats and it’s easy to see there’s a difference. No offense intended to the cat people among us, but felines simply don’t respond to our homecomings with quite the same gusto.
Which leads to the next explanation for the depth of dog loyalty—they are pack animals and people are their pack. Dogs evolved from wolves, pack hunters who depended upon each other for survival. When dogs split from wolves, their social connections expanded to include humans, who offered them food, ear scratches, and even invited them inside warm tents on cold nights. You are your dog’s pack leader and your dog appreciates the safety, dog treats, and affection you provide.
Finally, the reason dogs are so demonstrative in their loyalty and love is that they’ve learned it helps strengthen their connection with the humans who take care of them. Dogs not only showed their love, they became highly attuned to their people. Your sense that your dog understands what kind of day you’ve had is spot on. In 2016, researchers from the University of Lincoln in England and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil found that dogs understand positive and negative emotions in their humans based upon a combination of facial expressions and vocalizations.
Dog devotion to the people with whom they’re closest is also supported by science. In 2014, using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), researchers at Emory University obtained neuroimages of dogs’ brains while they smelled different scents. When the dogs smelled their people, their reward centers became highly active. When they smelled the scents of unfamiliar people, however, there was a much weaker response.
Are Some Dog Breeds More Loving and Loyal?
If you’ve spent time with more than one dog, you know that their personalities and affection levels vary widely. If your dog is somewhat aloof, don’t mistake that for a lack of devotion. Some dogs share their abiding love by staking out a permanent spot on your lap, while others show their loyalty through their steadfast presence by your side. From wildly affectionate to resolutely faithful, here are some of the most loving dog breeds.
The Top 5 Most Loyal Dog Breeds
This jubilant dog is notorious for her boundless affection. Labrador Retrievers are never happier than adventuring by your side—whether you are hiking, wing shooting, or racing around the back yard. And when your busy day is done, your Lab is ready to curl up beside you on the couch and spend the rest of the evening in peaceful companionship. Labs are also generous with their love. Though her loyalty resides with her pack members, she extends her affection to family friends and strangers—both two- and four-legged. Reserved Labs are a rare breed.
The loyalty of one Akita named Hachikō in Japan is legendary. At the same time every day Hachikō waited in the train station where his owner, a professor named Hidesaburō Ueno, returned home from work. When the professor died at work, Hachikō returned to the train station each day until his own death almost a decade later. In honor of his loyalty, a statue of Hachikō stands outside of Shibuya Station in Tokyo.
As the story above suggests, Akitas are endlessly devoted to the people of their pack. They are also highly protective, which makes socialization important to avoid problems when they meet strange people and dogs. Akitas are alert, brave, and intelligent, but their most predominant quality is their eagerness to spend time with favorite humans.
A constant friend and protector, the German Shepherd is a comforting dog to have around the household. German Shepherd Dogs are alert for interlopers around the clock. Because they are always on duty, they have no time to fraternize and are often aloof with strangers. It is this combination of protectiveness and smarts that makes them such excellent police dogs. Despite their intimidating demeanor, GSDs are loyal with the children in their family, though it’s important they are socialized with them from an early age. GSDs let down their guard around the house, where they will happily snuggle with their people and relax.
This majestic, imposing herding breed is a stalwart friend for life. Great Pyrenees require thorough training from an early age because they are headstrong, sure they know best, unless they learn otherwise. Because of this, Pyrs are best suited to experienced dog owners. Though initially wary of strangers, they aren’t aggressive unless their people are threatened. Great Pyrs have a calm, attentive disposition and make excellent companions for the children with whom they’re raised. As long as they are in close proximity to their families, Pyrs are content.
When trained with patience, Brittanys are exceptionally loving and loyal dogs. They require kind guidance because they are highly sensitive and aren’t very agreeable when unfairly treated. This bird dog’s loyalty doesn’t manifest in overprotectiveness, but rather in a deep attachment to her people. Brittanys need to be with their people from morning to night; separation anxiety develops easily in this breed when they are left alone frequently or for too long. The good news is, spending time playing or snuggling with your Brittany is a joy.
If you’re searching for a loyal dog, you’ll find a fast, furry friend in any of the above breeds. And if you already have a dog, you’re well acquainted with the most loyal canine in the world—she’s the one who keeps you company on walks, or greets you with slobbery kisses, or snuggles with you on the couch, or all of the above.