Do Dogs Appreciate You Taking Care Of Them?

Dogs Show Appreciation In Their Own Unique Ways

Over 90 million dogs are kept as pets in the United States alone (Source), and their doting owners surely believe their dogs adore them back. But how can we know if dogs truly feel appreciation for everything their owners do for them? While dogs may not say “thank you” out loud or write greeting cards, research shows they have their own ways of demonstrating gratitude. Through body language, emotional bonding, and brain chemistry, dogs repay our care in kinds – if we learn to spot the signs. This article will explore the evidence that dogs do appreciate their human caretakers, even if it’s not always apparent at first glance.

Proof of Appreciation

Dogs have numerous ways of showing their appreciation to their owners and handlers. One of the clearest signs of appreciation is an excited tail wag. According to Canine Campus, when dogs see their owners, their tails will usually start wagging rapidly back and forth to express happiness and gratitude for your presence.

Dogs also show appreciation through affectionate licking. As explained in this Hindustan Times article, when dogs lick their owner’s face or hands, it releases feel-good endorphins and oxytocin in both dog and human. Face licking in particular is thought to be a sign of gratitude.

Leaning against their owner is another appreciative gesture from dogs. According to TLCPetTransport, this full body contact demonstrates that your dog feels safe, secure, and grateful for your presence and care. Dogs will often lean on owners when seeking comfort or affection.

Lastly, dogs show thanks by following their owners around and wanting to be near them. Your dog’s desire for your company and attention is a clear sign they value and appreciate you. By sticking close to your side, they’re saying “thank you for taking care of me.”

Understanding Dog Emotions

It’s commonly believed that dogs experience basic emotions like joy, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness. However, recent research suggests dogs may also experience more complex emotions like love, jealousy, and pride.

According to Modern Dog Magazine, dogs likely feel a basic form of love due to their pack bonding nature. Dogs become attached and show affection to family members. When separated from loved ones, dogs exhibit signs of grief and loss. There’s even evidence that the hormone oxytocin plays a role in bonding between dogs and humans.

Dogs are capable of jealousy when attention or resources are unequally divided. A study by the University of California San Diego found that dogs exhibited more jealous behaviors, like pushing apart the owner and object of affection, when attention was focused on a stuffed toy dog compared to a jack-o-lantern toy.

Postural signals like a dominant stance and tail up suggest feelings of pride and achievement in dogs. After mastering a new trick or skill, dogs will often display body language associated with pride.

Pack Mentality

Dogs have evolved to live in social groups known as packs. Within their pack, dogs establish a social hierarchy with dominant and subordinate members. Research shows that dogs view their human owners as the leaders of their pack. Owners who provide food, shelter, affection, training and direction become “alpha” members in the eyes of their dogs.

According to dog behavior experts, establishing leadership helps dogs feel secure because they understand their place in the pack. Subordinate pack members look to leaders for guidance and care. So when owners provide for a dog’s needs, the dog perceives that care as coming from his or her trusted pack leader.

Studies of dog behavior and brain chemistry reveal that dogs receive a surge of “feel-good” hormones like oxytocin when interacting positively with their human owners. This reinforces the social bond between dog and owner. So in a sense, dogs appreciate the care they receive from “alpha” pack leaders. It fulfills a dog’s instinctual needs and activates the brain’s reward system.

As pack leader, owners can further strengthen their bond with dogs by providing structure, affection, playtime and training. With patience and positive reinforcement methods, owners can build a relationship of trust and companionship.

Reward Pathways

Taking care of a dog and fulfilling its needs triggers the release of dopamine in the dog’s brain, just like it does in humans. In both species, dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter that activates the reward and pleasure centers in the brain.

According to a study from UNM, playing with and petting a dog releases dopamine and serotonin, which are associated with feelings of happiness and calmness. The dopamine rush dogs experience from being cared for reinforces the human-animal bond, as the dog associates the care with pleasurable rewards.

Additionally, as explained by Innovet, when a human pets a familiar dog and looks into its eyes, it can trigger the release of oxytocin in both the human’s and dog’s brains. Oxytocin is sometimes called the “love hormone” and is associated with bonding and attachment.

Through the release of key neurotransmitters and hormones, caring behaviors promote a mutually beneficial relationship between dogs and their human caretakers.

Reading Dog Body Language

Dogs use their bodies to communicate their emotions and intentions. Learning to interpret dog body language allows owners to better understand what their canine companions are feeling. Some of the most important dog body language cues to look for include:

  • Tail wags – A loosely wagging tail indicates a happy or friendly dog. A stiff, rapidly wagging tail often signals arousal, curiosity, or anxiety. A tucked tail conveys fear.
  • Facial expressions – Relaxed eyes and mouth indicate a calm, content dog. Tense eyes staring intently can mean aggression. Lip licking or yawning are signs of stress.
  • Calming signals – Behaviors like turning away, sniffing the ground, or shaking off are meant to diffuse tension in interactions. They signal a dog feels uncomfortable with what is happening.

According to research from Hasegawa (2014), reading a dog’s body language facilitates better learning between dogs and their owners. Sites like Silent Conversations provide guides for deciphering canine body language. Paying close attention to nonverbal cues allows owners to understand their dogs on a deeper level.

Evolution of Dog-Human Bond

Dogs and humans have an exceptionally close relationship that has developed over thousands of years. This bond began when ancient humans started domesticating wolves around 15,000 years ago, leading to the creation of the first domesticated dogs (source). Since then, dogs have evolved many traits and behaviors that allow them to cooperate and communicate with humans in ways no other species can.

One major way dogs evolved for human cooperation is by becoming extremely skilled at reading human social cues and body language. Research shows dogs understand gestures like pointing much better than even our closest ape relatives (source). This allows them to effectively communicate with humans and follow commands. Dogs also show human-like social skills for bonding and forming attachments.

Additionally, dogs evolved to have less aggression and fear towards people than wolves. They developed facial muscles that make cute “puppy dog” expressions that appeal to humans. Their behavior and temperaments evolved to match our social dynamics and lifestyles. Ultimately, dogs became “man’s best friend” because they are genetically predisposed to cooperate with humans in ways no other animal does.

Brain Scans and Studies

Recent FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans have revealed interesting insights into the canine brain and how dogs process interactions with humans. According to a 2020 study published in Scientific Reports, FMRI scans indicate that the caudate region of a dog’s brain shows significant activation when they are exposed to familiar human scents, suggesting feelings of affection and positive association (Karl, 2020). The caudate is associated with reward and motivation, so its activation indicates the dog is experiencing happiness and excitement.

Another FMRI study from 2016 indicated that praise from a familiar human strongly activated reward regions in dogs’ brains, even more so than food rewards in some cases (Cook et. al, 2016). This provides scientific validation that dogs genuinely appreciate verbal praise and affection from their human caretakers.

Overall, these brain imaging studies demonstrate that dogs feel happiness, affection, and appreciation for their human owners at a neurological level. The owner-dog bond lights up strong reward pathways in canine brains similar to those seen with human-human bonds.

Anecdotal Stories

There are many heartwarming examples of dogs showing appreciation to their owners and rescuers. One example comes from Reddit where a user shared a video of a dog showing gratitude after being rescued. The user wrote “I’m all about rescuing animals. Dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, you name it. And I can’t imagine how happy she is to experience a surreal moment of being set free” (source). The video shows the dog jumping up to lick her rescuer’s face and wagging her tail excitedly. This emotional response demonstrates the dog’s ability to feel and express appreciation for being saved.

There are many similar stories of dogs rescued from dire situations who go on to show an immense amount of affection and loyalty to their new owners. While we can’t know exactly what dogs are thinking, these behaviors imply that dogs have an inherent capacity to feel gratitude and the desire to “give back” to those who have helped them.


In summary, the evidence clearly shows that dogs do greatly appreciate the care and bonding provided by their human companions. From their evolutionary history as pack animals to modern-day brain scans and behavior studies, we see that dogs have adapted over thousands of years to deeply rely on and value human support. The meaningful relationship between dogs and humans is mutually beneficial, with dogs receiving the care, food and shelter they need, and humans gaining friendship, loyalty and unconditional love in return.

Dogs have evolved to understand human cues, emotions, and communication in a way unmatched by any other species. Their brains light up with joy simply at seeing their human’s face or receiving praise and affection. The powerful hormone oxytocin is released when dogs interact with their owners, creating a profound sense of connection and fulfillment. Even the smallest acts of care like regular feedings, exercise, grooming, and quality time together build trust and appreciation in your canine companion.

So rest assured that all the time, effort and resources you invest as a dog owner does not go unnoticed. Your furry friend is well aware of your acts of care and values your companionship above all else. The strong bond you share brings fulfillment to both human and dog, continuing a cherished cross-species friendship that has endured for millennia.

Scroll to Top