Having had dogs for almost my entire life, I have been blessed with pups who have shared a strong, loving, and trusting bond with me. But I am certain that this is not the same for everyone who has welcomed a four-legged family member into their home. In November 21, 2018 publication, Amber King lists six indicators of whether our beloved canine trusts us.
Ms. King outlines that trust is earned, a belief that I maintain for human relationships as well. And, as we all realize, trust takes time to develop, and not everyone deserves our trust. She goes on to list six signs that reveal whether or not our dogs trust us.
1. He looks you in the eyes
In human body language, eye contact can mean anything from, “I take you seriously” to “Will you go on a date with me?” There are several different messages your eyes can send another person, but generally, looking someone in the eye tells them you’re focused and paying attention. In canine body language, however, eye contact tells a whole different story. A dog that looks another dog in the eye is most likely issuing a threat. It’s a sign of dominance, and to keep the peace, most dogs avoid locking eyes with their furry friends.
Your dog won’t look into the eyes of another dog, but you’re not another dog. You’re the person he trusts more than anyone else in the world. Animal behaviorist Alexandra Horowitz says in her book, “Inside a Dog,” a dog’s ability to look into a person’s eyes in a non-aggressive way was one of the first steps toward canine domestication. They somehow learned that humans like eye contact, and by looking into a person’s eyes, they establish a meaningful relationship. If you and your dog can gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes, it’s a sign your dog trusts you and understands you.
2. He comes to you for cuddles
It’s easy to take doggy cuddles for granted when your pup is hogging the blankets and taking up most of the bed. He might kick you in his sleep or fart dangerously close to your face, but the fact he’s sleeping with you in the first place is a good sign you’ve earned his complete trust.
Dogs are the most vulnerable when they’re asleep. Wolves and wild dogs purposefully sleep in small, confined areas with pack members they trust to protect against predators. For your pampered pooch, curled up on your bed is the safest place to be. Voluntary cuddling and snuggling is one of a dog’s favorite ways to show people their love. They know you won’t hurt them while they sleep, and if an unwanted visitor comes knocking, he knows he’d rather be near you than far away.
3. He’s confident and relaxed around you
You can tell a lot about how a dog feels based on their body language. Dogs that are scared or anxious pace back and forth, cower, put their tails between their legs, lip their licks, yawn when they aren’t tired, pant excessively, and pin their ears to their heads. When used in normal context, all these actions suggest something’s bothering your dog. For one reason or another, they’re not as confident or as relaxed as they should be.
On the other paw, animal behaviorist Victoria Stilwell says dogs that trust their people often display signs of confident and relaxed body posture. They keep their mouths slightly open, their eyes blink often, their ears are in a forward position, and their tails are either wagging or perky and loose. This type of body language says your dog is confident by your side and isn’t worried about being scared or surprised. Your dog trusts you to keep things under control. You’ll notice your dog’s confident posture when you’re doing chores around the house, out on a walk, and simply spending time together.
4. He responds well to your training
Most people think training a dog is all about the dog, but it’s actually about the bond shared on both ends of the leash. If the dog doesn’t trust his handler, he’s far less likely to respond well to the training. Some trainers get results from punishment and fear-based lessons, but most behaviorists agree this kind of “obedience” isn’t the same as a dog responding to cues based on trust and respect.
Many people who bring home newly adopted rescue dogs struggle with training because of trust. Rescue dogs see the worst of humanity through abuse and abandonment, and trusting their new families doesn’t come naturally. While training right away is important, it might take a rescue a few days, weeks, or months to realize his new family is permanent. Once he feels comfortable enough to let his guard down, he can start building trust and training goes much smoother. If your dog seems eager and attentive during training, it’s a sign he both respects and trusts you.
5. He’s calm when you leave
Separation anxiety is a common behavioral issue in dogs. These pups panic when their families leave them alone and get into serious (often dangerous) trouble. Even if you wouldn’t classify your dog as having separation anxiety, some pups cry, whine, and scratch at the door when their favorite people disappear. Sometimes this means they want to join in on the fun they’re missing out on, but it could also mean they’re not completely confident the people they love are coming back.
If your dog trusts you 100%, he won’t doubt that you’ll eventually be back for belly rubs and playtime. He might not be happy about you leaving for work every day, but for the most part, he remains calm. He’ll wait patiently for you to finish up whatever mysterious human business you have to do, and he’ll be at the door ready to greet you when you get home.
6. He looks to you for reassurance and guidance
Whether you’re out on a walk or playing at the park, you and your dog are a team. You might not always agree on which tree deserves sniffing and when it’s time to head back home, but your pup is happy to be out adventuring with his favorite human. For scared and timid dogs, being outside in a new environment can be especially intimidating. They find comfort in knowing a trustworthy human is there for moral support.
Even if your dog isn’t usually anxious outside, you can tell he trusts you if he regularly checks in to see what you’re doing. If he’s walking on or off a leash, he might glance back in your direction to make sure you’re still there and approve of his behavior. If you’re at the dog park and he’s busy wrestling with his best buds, he’ll probably stop every now and then to scamper back to where you’re standing. He gets his confidence from you, and he’s happy to keep you involved even if it’s in a small way.
Knowing you have a dog’s complete trust is an incredible feeling. It means you’re doing this whole “pup parenting” thing right, and you and your dog have a great bond. Having a dog’s trust is a big responsibility, however. He’ll turn to you when he’s sad and scared, and you’ll be the first person he plays with when he’s happy. Never take that feeling for granted.