Back in 1992, Gary Chapman wrote this fun book about the five love languages in people. This book allowed human couples to better understand what they wanted from their relationships. I enjoyed the book and if you haven't done the love languages test for yourself recently, it's a fun one to do! In any event, my daughter and I were talking about this book when we realized that dogs, much like humans, also seem to have five love languages. My daughter went so far as to suggest that maybe one of the reasons some dog owners have a difficult time engaging their dog is that they are trying to push their love language onto a dog for whom that love language isn't as important. Her example? People whose love language is physical touch who try to hug, kiss, and lay all over their dogs. While there are indeed some dogs who enjoy very close physical contact with their owners, there are just as many for whom this kind of close contact is anxiety-provoking. What if those dogs whose owners are hanging all over them are themselves a words of affirmation kind of dog? Meaning, dogs who prefer verbal reinforcement to the hugs and kisses? Fascinating, right?
If you aren't familiar with the five love languages, here they are. What I've added for you to think about is what the canine version of this love language might be.
1. Words of affirmation: Telling your dog they did a great job, adding in verbal markers like an enthusiastic "Yes!" when they complete a task, or even just saying something like, "who's a good dog?" This love language is all about praise, encouragement, and compliments.
2. Acts of service: For a dog, acts of service might be taking them for a walk, grooming them if they enjoy being brushed, or taking them for a ride in the car. These are acts that make your dog feel well-cared for.
3. Receiving gifts: Quite obviously, this could be buying your dog a new toy, but it could also be you digging that bone out from under the couch that they thought they'd lost forever!
4. Quality time: Giving your dog your undivided attention. This one is hard for some dog owners I see who are on their phones or listening to ear buds while they are walking or caring for their dogs. Dogs know when they have your focus and you're actively engaged with them.
5. Physical touch: While all dogs enjoy some touch from their favored humans, they usually have their favorite spots to be scratched or rubbed. And then, of course, there are dogs who enjoy being hugged and kissed. There are even dogs who enjoy physical touch from strangers; these dogs make great pet assisted therapists.
Obviously, you can't ask your dog to take the online quiz to determine their most prominent love language. And, yes, most dogs like being given a snack and taken for a walk (receiving gifts and acts of service, respectively), but there are dogs who don't enjoy walks as much or aren't super food motivated. Those dogs might be more motivated by words of affirmation or physical touch. So, to determine your own dog's love language, take a good look at their behavior in response to you supplying love those five different ways outlined about. Which one really seems to describe your dog?
Desi is absolutely a physical touch dog. He loves being petted, hugged, kissed and doted on, both by family and by strangers. He loves attention more than anything else. Ozzie, on the other hand, isn't motivated by touch and will actively seek to avoid it if he thinks someone is going to try to hug or kiss him. He does, however, know when he has my undivided attention and seeks that out and he definitely is an acts of service kind of dog too.
I think my daughter is right. Having a better understanding of what motivates your dog and makes them feel loved is one way to improve your relationship with them. Rather than making them fit into the box for what you thought dog ownership would be like, let your dog show you what works for them. That way, everybody wins!
As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.