For decades and perhaps far longer than that, people who love dogs have sworn that their pups love them back.
After all, we’ve been living side by side with companion canines for millennia. Surely they must feel something for us besides devotion to the meals and treats we provide.
Up until just in the last handful of years, however, all evidence to prove this point was anecdotal. In other words, proof that German Shepherd dogs (and many other breeds as well) love their people existed only in stories.
Today, we have a lot more than that to help us understand the truly unique bond between people and their dogs.
In this article, learn the definitive answer to the question of whether your German Shepherd loves you – yes or no – and how you can tell for sure.
A dog is God Spelled Backwards: But Can We Prove It?
If a dog is an anagram for god and god is love, then it follows that dog must be love, right?
Any dog lover would happily say “of course!” And there is no easier way to gather consensus than to head to YouTube and watch the many moving, tear-jerker videos German Shepherd dog owners have made of their special moments with their pups.
Here is just one example of a video where the GSD literally barks with joy to see her owners return after a two-month absence, cuddling up in the man’s lap like a tiny puppy for pats and hugs.
The joy this dog feels to see “her” people again is so palpable it would seem to require no explanation – and certainly no translation.
But what if there was a translation? What if we did have a scientific explanation for why dogs, in general, appear to exhibit behaviors that, to their people, perfectly match an outpouring of love?
What if we could go even deeper to understand why the German Shepherd dog breed, in particular, seems to exhibit a particularly strong love-response to their human family members, like the response you just watched in the video?
That would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it!
Let’s take a look now at some scientific facts from recent research studies that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that your German Shepherd dog does, in fact, love you.
Science Fact 1: Dogs Have Evolved Different Facial Muscles to Mirror Human Expressions
If you have ever looked at your German Shepherd dog’s mournful, pleasing expression and thought “I just can’t resist the cuteness!” you are looking at evolution at its finest.
As it turns out, according to a research study published in PNAS, the journal from the National Academy of Sciences, canine facial muscles have deliberately evolved to make that expression.
In particular, the inner eyebrow muscles of the modern domestic dog have evolved to help dogs achieve similar eyebrow movements to that of people.
This is why dogs can make certain facial expressions that modern wolves can’t completely reproduce, even though the two species still share DNA.
Even more miraculous, scientists say it only took 33,000 years for the modern companion canine to develop and perfect this genetic modification – a record-breakingly short amount of time from an evolutionary perspective.
How does this prove that your German Shepherd dog loves you? It doesn’t – precisely. But it does bring us one step closer by helping us understand that dogs want to be with people. Ergo, it follows that your GSD wants to be with you.
Science Fact 2: Dogs Can (And Do) Also Form Strong Bonds With Other Species
If a species is capable of developing strong bonds of affection, emotion, or love (or whatever you want to call it) with one other species, that species should be able to form those same bonds with multiple species.
At least that is the theory that motivated researchers at the Penguin Preservation Project on Middle Island in Australia. Foxes, an invasive introduced species, were killing off the indigenous species of penguins with alarming speed.
So they called in the dogs. Not only did the two dogs assigned to guard the penguin colony does a fantastic job, but they also showed unusually strong care for their little charges – so much so that a movie called Oddball was made about the true story.
The dogs used to guard the penguins are Maremma sheepdogs. These dogs are quite similar in some important ways to German Shepherds.
The most relevant similarity here is that both breeds of dog evolved first and foremost to guard and herd livestock and protect farm animals from predators.
In other words, they were literally bred to care to the point they will risk their lives for their charges!
However, this still isn’t proof per se of actual love feelings emanating from your German Shepherd dog to you. To find proof of that, we need to dig even deeper.
Science Fact 3: Both People and Dogs Feel a Rise in Oxytocin When Together
As important medical technology has become easier and cheaper to access, biologists studying other species besides people are also making greater use of it.
For example, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, used fMRI technology to measure the levels of oxytocin in the levels of pet dogs and their people.
Oxytocin is often called the “love hormone” because the body produces more of it when in the presence of a loved one, be that a new baby, a partner, or someone or even something else that gives intense pleasure.
An important point to make about this study was that the dogs were trained to voluntarily enter the fMRI machine and participate in the study and were permitted to refuse if they didn’t want to enter. They were never coerced in any way to participate.
The fMRI technology permitted the researchers to identify when the pleasure centers of the brains of the dogs would light up, such as when the dogs were presented with the scent of their owner.
Every time the dogs would smell the scent of their owner, the pleasure centers inside their brains would light up on the fMRI machine.
An even simpler research study carried out at Azabu University in Japan used canine urine samples to detect a rise in oxytocin.
The researchers would collect an initial urine sample from each participating dog. Then they would have the dogs interact with their owners for one-half hour. Then they would take a second urine sample.
Guess what they discovered? The dogs’ oxytocin levels showed a marked increase after interacting with their owners!
What do these two studies tell us? Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the spike in oxytocin and the increased activity in the pleasure center of the canine brain highlight evidence that dogs feel love for their people.
Other Ways to Know Your German Shepherd Dog Loves You
It is great to know what the latest modern science has to say about whether there can be loved shared between two different species.
It is exciting to be able to back up scientifically what German Shepherd dog owners have only ever felt in our gut intuition until now.
But you don’t have to go nearly that far to discover whether your German Shepherd loves you or not. As the video from earlier in this article showcased, it is as easy to recognize love as it is to recognize any other canine emotion.
You know when your dog is stressed or angry or unwell. This isn’t anthropomorphism (a fancy science term used to explain what happens when people assign human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to non-human species).
Rather, it is the familiarity that helps you know these things about your GSD. You spend a lot of time together so you have a lot of opportunities to put two and two together, connecting certain scenarios with certain behaviors and emotions.
If every time you come home from work or errands or anywhere, your German Shepherd goes crazy with excitement to greet you, licking you and barking and jumping on you and following you around – well, it’s clear your dog isn’t mad or sad or stressed.
Your dog is happy. This is because your GSD loves you.
As the American Kennel Club (AKC) points out, this type of greeting is so common between German Shepherds and their owners it is even considered to be a “German Shepherd dog thing.”
Not all dog breeds get so excited when their people enter a room.
In fact, that is probably why German Shepherds are the second most popular purebred dog breed (out of nearly 200 breeds)! They love their people so much that everyone wants to share life with a GSD of their very own.
You can test out this theory for yourself. Spend a few minutes just thinking about all the little ways your German Shepherd shows you they care about you. Then celebrate the fact that you chose such a loving dog breed!