Dogs can feel the love when you play and cuddle with them

By Kelli Bender
February 27, 2019 09:00 AM

Dogs just make life better.

Every day, countless dog owners express this sentiment by telling their pooches how cute they are, what good boys or girls they’re being and how much they are loved.

Unfortunately, while canines are attuned to your moods and can sense your praise, that can’t understand the words “I love you” the way we mean them. But that doesn’t mean pups can’t feel the love!

To help us express our adoration to our animals in a way they’ll “get,” PEOPLE reached out to Phil Tedeschi,‘s human-animal connection expert and the executive director of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver in Colorado.

Tedeschi is dedicated to exploring the bond between humans and non-human animals and how we can strengthen those ties in a way that is beneficial to both sides. In his more than 20 years at the Institute for Human-Animal Connection, Tedeschi has learned some fascinating things about the ways canines communicate, and in turn how we can communicate best with them.

Here are Tedeschi’s tips on the best way to express your love to your dog.

Credit: Hero Images/Getty

Pack in Plenty of Play Time
Dogs are highly expressive, and in response people have become pretty good at speaking “dog.” Body language like a play bow, recognized by a person who then responds by starting to play, is for most dogs the best message of love and connection. Dogs use play to express friendship and love.

Say “I Love You” With Pats
From the moment dogs enter the world, they are licked, nuzzled and comforted as newborns by their parents, especially their mother. Gentle touching and nuzzling mimics this type of maternal affection and love, eliciting oxytocin attachment and a sense of well-being. Allowing dogs to routinely use their senses is a wonderful way to express your love to your dogs.

Communicate Clearly with Your Eyes, Hands and Face
Although dogs can’t text, they have the canine equivalent of emojis: effective use of communication and language in the form of numerous cues. Dogs use their eyes, mouth, tail, paws, body posture, vocalizations, and more to express themselves. Humans are good and getting better at understanding these messages, and in turn, dogs have learned a lot about humans and the human world around them. High on this list is the dog’s capacity to read human faces and body language to discern emotional circumstances. Dogs have high levels of social-emotional attunement, especially with people they know. So, one of the ways to express love with dogs is to become an effective partner, communicator and respondent. Most dogs respond well to a loving gaze from their owners.

Respect Your Dog’s Dislikes
Consent is critical in understanding our dogs, recognizing what they are capable of telling us what they enjoy and don’t appreciate. Many dogs will learn to tolerate some actions, but may be experiencing and showing signs of distress, fear and anxiety. If we ignore these signs, dogs may conclude that we aren’t respectful or good listeners. For many animals, these actions include things that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar like being dressed in a costume, interacting with rowdy children or crowds, or being taken to an unfamiliar setting. It’s worth considering carefully the ways we teach manners as well. Dogs being trained in ways that are coercive, hurtful, fear-inducing and compulsion-based occur because people often want their dog to do these things without their consent or because people ignore what their dogs are telling them about these approaches.