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Why are Dogs so Loyal to Humans? Here’s What Science Says

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

human holding dog's paw

Dogs are touted as some truly loyal companions, pets, and friends. And the truth is, almost everyone who’s ever shared a close bond with a dog can attest to their loyalty and love. After all, they didn’t earn the nickname of man’s best friend without showing some serious loyalty. Comedians have even joked about how necessary dogs are in marriage because they’ll always love you when you come home and be happy to see you, but the same can’t be said for a human partner!

All dog owners know that dogs are loyal creatures. But do you really know why? What is it that makes a dog so loyal to its human owners? Why is it that these dogs feel strongly enough for us that they’re willing to put us first all the time? Or is this all in the minds of dog owners? Let’s take a closer look at what the science has to say about canine loyalty to humans.

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Are Dogs Really Loyal?

Before we start discussing why dogs are loyal, are we even certain that they are? Humans seem to associate many human characteristics with their canine companions; is loyalty just another one of these anthropomorphizations?

A study was once done by ScienceDirect where dogs were presented with three scents, one was their owner’s scent, one was a stranger’s scent, and the last one was a food odor. The researchers took brain scans of the dogs as they neared each of the scents. Not only did the dogs display stronger reactions to their owners’ scents than any other odors, but the test also documented that particular parts of the dogs’ brains lit up; the parts that are responsible for positive emotions and happiness.

boy and dog by the lake
Image Credit: Pixabay

Another study was completed where strangers were rude to dogs’ owners. Afterward, the dogs were given a chance to interact with the pair, and overwhelmingly, the dogs showed blatant disregard for the stranger.

Aside from these studies that provide some scientific proof for canine loyalty, there are plenty of true stories that can also offer some additional anecdotal proof. For instance, the story of Hachiko the Akita is well known. This dog used to wait for its owner to return from work every day at the train station. But one day, his owner died at work and didn’t return. For more than ten years, Hachiko returned to the train station, waiting for his owner who never returned. Hachiko even went to the train station to wait on the day that it died.

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Eight Reasons Your Dog is Loyal to You

Now that we’ve established the fact that dogs are definitely loyal creatures and it’s not just something that hopeful dog owners are imagining, let’s see what science has to say about the issue. In total, we’ve found eight great reasons why your dog is loyal to you. These eight reasons are behind every dog’s loyalty to its owners, even yours.

1. You’re Part of the Same Pack

Dogs, much like their wolf cousins that they split off from 15,000-40,000 years ago, are pack animals. They see each member of the pack as an important family member, just like human families. This is part of why dogs fit in so well with the human family dynamic. Just like you feel loyalty towards your parents and siblings, your dog feels loyalty towards you.

paw and hand
Image Credit: Pixabay

2. Being with You Makes Your Dog Happier

For most dog owners, the presence of their dog is enough to help them feel better when things aren’t going well. But this is a mutual feeling. The same as you feel better around your dog, your dog feels better around you. And this isn’t just conjecture, it’s been proven.

A study was published in 2015 in which the authors studied the effect of a dog’s owner on the dog’s oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is the chemical within the body that’s responsible for happiness, and the researchers found that its levels increased in dogs shortly after an interaction with their owner. This is proof that your dog is actually happier when it sees you.

3. You Are Their Provider

Domesticated pets are always reliant on their owners for just about everything. Unlike some pets, dogs are aware of this. Your dog knows that you provide its water, food, and all of the other necessities. Furthermore, your dog is aware that you’re the one that plays with it, offers treats, provides love, and more. All of this makes your dog’s life better, and the loyalty your dog displays towards you is its way of paying you back.

bernese mountain dog waiting for food
Image Credit: Pixabay

4. Empathy

If you’ve never owned a dog, you might not think that dogs can show empathy. However, just about anyone who’s ever had a close bond with a dog knows that they can. Has your dog ever come over to you when you were acting sad and tried to comfort you? This is pretty common among dog owners.

A 2012 study showed that dogs change their behavior based on peoples’ moods. And it’s not just their owners they do this for. Dogs will even change their behavior based on the mood they detect a stranger to be in.

5. You Share a Deep Bond

The family bond you share with your dog is one thing, but after all you’ve been through together, you have a bond that’s much deeper than just family. Granted, not every dog forms the same degree of bond with every owner. Personalities have to match. But if you have that deep bond with your dog, you know that it will be loyal to you until the very end.

girl and dog in the grass
Image Credit: Pixabay

6. Your Dog Needs You

Dogs have been domesticated for so long that they’ve come to rely on humans as more than just providers. That’s why your dog turns to you when it encounters a problem. For instance, many dogs will go straight to their owner when they get a thorn or cactus spine in their foot. This was proven in a study performed back in 2008. It also showed that dogs are more like humans than most other species; even primates are considered our closest relatives.

7. Breeding and Genetics

After many years of domestication, dogs’ genes have experienced permanent changes. In a 2009 study, the behavior changes of domestic foxes were compared to those of wild foxes. The researchers came to the conclusion that the forced evolution of domestication caused domestic foxes to be more adapted to human interaction. Of course, this study looks at foxes, but we can assume that the same is true. Plus, dogs have had many times longer to go through this evolution, as we domesticated them much further back.

woman and dog by the lake
Image Credit: Pixabay

8. Selective Breeding

Since we first domesticated canines, we’ve been selectively breeding them to display the traits that we find most desirable. Size, aggression, temperament, and more can all be altered through selective breeding. After many millennia of breeding the most loyal dogs, loyalty is a trait that’s become natural to most of the species.

Are Some Breeds More Loyal Than Others?

Dog owners always think their dogs are the smartest, best behaved, and most loyal, just as most parents think of their children. Many will argue that the breed they love most is more loyal than any other. And some breeds are known for their loyalty, such as Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds. Undoubtedly, these dogs can display great loyalty, but are they truly more loyal than other breeds?

In truth, how loyal any particular dog is depends on a great many factors, far beyond just its breed. A lot of it comes down to the bond between owner and canine. If they share a super-close bond and are always together, then the dog will be more apt to display a deep loyalty than a dog whose owners don’t spend as much time building that strong bond, regardless of breed. Dogs of any breed can display great loyalty if they have owners who have earned it.

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As man’s best friend, dogs are known to be incredibly loyal. According to science, this isn’t just conjecture either. Dogs are truly loyal to their humans. As you’ve read, there are many reasons for this. You provide everything for your dog, and we’ve evolved together as two mutual species. Plus, your dog knows that you’re a family. And after so many years of selective breeding, dogs have evolved to be more adapted to human behavior, and their bodies even release feel-good chemicals when they interact with us.

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