Why Are Dogs So Loyal?


Labrador retrievers are legendary for their loyalty.
Photo via facebook.com/wildrosekennels

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 and more.

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 role in dog loyalty, we do this for cats too, 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 depths 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, their response was much weaker.

Can You Make Your Dog More Loyal?

Some dogs bond strongly with one family member, while others aren’t that picky and will choose whichever person is holding the tastiest snack. The easiest way to make a dog more loyal is to give her attention: Dogs often bond with the people who spend the most time with them. Training, feeding, walking, and playing are the best ways to strengthen a canine-human bond. Praise and positive reinforcement training methods lead to a loyal, happy companion.

But loyalty and obedience are not the same thing: While an obedient dog may also be loyal, some dogs listen well without forming a strong bond with you. Dogs with weak or developing loyalties may still be stellar when it comes to obedience training, and the bond may come later. Loyal breeds may be better suited for off-leash training because they want to keep you in sight, and thus might be less likely to wander.

Nor does a smarter dog necessarily mean a more loyal dog. A loyal dog may seem more trainable because her attention is more likely to be focused on you rather than on distractions. Or, your intelligent dog may have an independent streak, making her seem less loyal. Similarly, gender doesn’t play a significant role: Male or female, a dog’s loyalty depends on the attention you give and bond you build.

Are Some Dog Breeds More Loving and Loyal?

If you’ve spent time with more than one dog, you know 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.

Working breeds—especially guarding and herding breeds—may care little for curling up beside you in the evenings because they’re on alert, listening for strange noises, or watching for unexpected shadows. Their focus on duty may mean they don’t fit the tail-wagging, foot-warming picture of a loyal breed, but they’re showing their dedication by keeping you safe from harm.

From wildly affectionate to resolutely faithful, here are some of the most loving dog breeds.

The Top 20 Most Loyal Dog Breeds

  1. Labrador Retriever
  2. Akita
  3. German Shepherd
  4. Great Pyreneees
  5. Brittany
  6. Golden Retriever
  7. Shiba Inu
  8. Bernese Mountain Dog
  9. Collie
  10. Beagle
  11. Rottweiler
  12. Corgi
  13. Boxer
  14. American Staffordshire Terrier
  15. Coton de Tulear
  16. Border Collie
  17. Dachshund
  18. Havanese
  19. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
  20. The Shelter Dog

Labrador Retriever

This jubilant dog is notorious for her boundless affection. Labrador Retrievers are never happier than adventuring by your side—whether you’re hiking, wingshooting, 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. The Lab is also generous with her 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.

Akita

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. Even after the professor died at work, Hachikō continued returning 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 socializing an Akita important to avoid problems when they meet strange people and dogs. Akitas are alert, brave, and intelligent, but their most predominant quality is an eagerness to spend time with favorite humans.

German Shepherd

A constant friend and protector, the German Shepherd is a comforting dog to have around the household. German Shepherd Dogs stay on the 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 socializing them around children from an early age is important. GSDs let down their guard around the house, where they will happily relax and snuggle with their people.

Great Pyrenees

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’re in close proximity to their families, Pyrs are content.

Brittany

When trained with patience, Brittanys are exceptionally loving and loyal dogs. They require kind guidance because they’re 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’re left alone frequently or for too long. The good news is, spending time playing or snuggling with your Brittany is a joy.

Golden Retriever

While some may consider the Golden Retriever’s love-everyone personality a sign of disloyalty, we think her friendly and accepting nature scores one in the ‘loyal’ column. There’s a reason the Golden is considered one of the top breeds for a family—she’s always ready to give you her all, whether it’s a snuggle after a hike, keeping you company at night, or curling up in the tent during a backyard camping adventure with the kids. Joyful romps in the yard and those big-hearted gazes prove the Golden Retriever is a truly loyal companion.

Shiba Inu

Shiba Inu are loyal companions who tend to form strong bonds with one or two people. They have an independent nature and may be stubborn, often described as more cat-like than canine. One dog from Japan proved how far the loyalty goes: Mari rescued her puppies and owner from the rubble in 2004 after an earthquake shook the village, inspiring books and movies that recount the ordeal. If you want an independent, sometimes aloof breed whose loyalty doesn’t include the need for constant attention, the Shiba Inu may be the dog for the job.

Bernese Mountain Dog

The Bernese Mountain Dog is another breed that often bonds strongly with family members. Berners are loyal to the people they live with, but unlike some other selective breeds, welcome visitors with excited greetings and a goofy, smiling face. They’re dependable protectors of their family members—but non-aggressive when new people stop in. Because Berners become so attached to their family, adjusting to a new home can be difficult for them.

Collie

Lassie, the famous Collie, is one of the most noteworthy examples of canine loyalty. A multitude of short stories, books, TV series, and feature-length movies depict the dog—a Rough Coated Collie—as a dedicated hero. The original inspiration for this loyal, lovable canine is said to be a heroic collie mix who saved the life of a sailor during World War I. After a shipwreck, the original Lassie stayed with a man presumed dead until he woke. The Collie is still considered a loyal companion.

The Shelter Dog

While breed-specific traits may mean a dog is dedicated to her people, breed alone doesn’t make her loyal—the care and attention you provide can help form a strong bond. A shelter dog, no matter the breed, could be the most loyal companion you welcome into your home. Building a trusting bond with a mixed breed dog from a humane society or rescue may take a little extra time depending on her temperament and history, but you’ll earn a faithful friend in return.

The Five Least Loyal Dog Breeds

Ranking loyalty based on breed is complicated: A bond takes time and trust and is not necessarily determined by breed, but specific traits may suggest loyalty—or the absence of it—in a dog. 

Don’t mistake separation anxiety for loyalty—while your dog may whine, bark, tear beds apart, and pace while you’re away, there’s more to these behaviors than missing her bonded pack. Separation anxiety may require consulting with a behaviorist or veterinarian if training methods alone aren’t enough to ease her worry.

Disloyalty also doesn’t mean the likelihood to bite or act aggressively. Instead, our list of the least loyal dogs includes independent breeds, wanderers, and dogs more likely to show indifference rather than slobbery, excited greetings. Some of the least loyal dogs—ranked so because they’re not often visibly affectionate or may take longer to bond—include the following:

  1. The Siberian Husky is often considered one of the least loyal dog breeds by many due to her independent, sometimes aloof nature—but, for the owner who prefers this to the Velcro-dog personality, a Husky’s quiet companionship may be the best kind of loyalty.
  2. Plott Hounds and other hunting breeds may be more likely to run away if they catch an enticing scent or spot a rabbit, and they may possess spotty listening skills, especially when on the scent.
  3. Jack Russell Terriers, while usually incredibly attached to their owners, are escape artists who tend to slip out for a taste of freedom. They’re wonderful, affectionate companions—but they aren’t likely to stick close by if the door is left ajar.
  4. Australian Shepherds can be selective, usually bonding with only one or two people. They’re hardworking, often devoted dogs, but require early, consistent socialization if you want them to accept strangers.
  5. Chow Chows are considered one of the least loyal breeds because of their indifferent attitude toward attention, and their independent and aloof nature. A Chow may be protective of her owner, but establishing this bond takes time. Though it may be a long road, once you’ve earned the Chow’s loyalty, you have a friend for life.

If you’re searching for a loyal dog, remember that loyalty isn’t based on breed alone. Each dog is her own canine, and while breed traits may mean she leans more aloof or independent, you’ll bond in your own way. Just consider the qualities important to you to find the breed that most resembles your idea of loyalty. 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.

5 thoughts on “Why Are Dogs So Loyal?”

  1. Thank you for clarifying why dogs are so loyal. My little 7 month okd terrier is very attached to me. I am with her more than anyone, and her live and adoration for me is plainly obvious. She follows me everywhere I go. You can’t beat having a loyal friend!

  2. Thank you for your stories. I have a German shepherd that is 10 years young and a rescue lab that is 3 years old. They bring me ultimate joy. They are my kids. So wonderful with my husband who has Alzheimer’s great support and comfort for us both. Thank you!

  3. Caring for a dog, although it takes time and effort, is successfully compensated by the joy of having a four-legged friend in your life. Before you get a dog of a special breed, collect as much information about it as possible. It is very important that you have trust and a warm relationship with your dog, read more about it here https://inspiredogs.com/how-to-know-if-your-dog-has-bonded-with-you-and-trusts-you/ , because it will be your most loyal and reliable friend.

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