It’s a sight every dog owner has experienced. You arrive home from work and before you can even think about taking your shoes off, you’ve got a slobbering dog in your face. Her tail is moving frantically, but what is going through your mutt’s mind? Does your dog actually miss you or are they just happy to be fed again? Animal psychology has been a point of contention for a long time, so in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re asking one question: Can animals feel love?
Now, when we refer to love, we’re not exactly talking about romantic love. Scientists can’t tell you with 100% certainty whether your two cats are in love with each other. However, we do know that animals are able to form strong attachments to caregivers and can separate you from a stranger. To them, you’re more than the human who feeds them everyday and because attachment is a form of love, scientists have determined that animals indeed are able to love. So the quick answer is: YES.
Companions and Caregivers
In 1858 Scotland, when Constable John Gray passed away, his death was felt the hardest by his Skye Terrier, Greyfriars Bobby (awesome name, right?). It’s told that after the funeral, Bobby spent every single night on the constable’s grave until he too passed away 14 years later. The dog was beloved by locals and travelers alike, who made sure he was always taken care of as the cemetery’s new caretaker. Bobby was officially adopted by the city after a new law concerning dog licensing threatened his life. Queen Victoria was known to visit him and a statue still stands in Edinburgh to commemorate his loyalty and devotion.
Even though the connection between Bobby and the constable lies at an extreme end of the spectrum, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that dogs can become attached to their owners. They are called man’s best friend for a reason. But there’s another level to a dog’s devotion. Evidence has shown that dogs can also become temporary caregivers for their humans. Dogs have a cognitive capability to recognize human emotions. They are likely to approach a person in distress and try to comfort them. By approaching a crying person with submissive behavior, dogs are displaying more than just simple curiosity.
This behavior was confirmed with brain scans. Gregory Berns, neuroscientist from Emory University, used fMRI neuroimaging to scan the brains of dogs. The true feat of the tests is that Berns was able to train the dogs to lie still long enough to be scanned. The results showed that dogs have increased activity in the areas of their brains associated with attachment, empathy and theory of mind, which indicates that dogs wonder what their owners are thinking about.
‘Til Death Do Us Part
While marriage isn’t a concept in the animal world, some animals are known to mate for life. While, as previously stated, scientists haven’t been able to prove a form of romantic love in animals, biologists argue that the existence of long-term partners in certain animals shows that they feel something for each other. Some of the animals that mate for life include gray wolves, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, penguins, swans, vultures and albatrosses. Looks like the rest of us can take some notes from birds.