Why Your Dog Is Thankful, Too

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

dog saying thank you

Story at-a-glance -

  • Scientists say your dog’s wagging tail and happy, expectant expression are tangible signs he has many of the same feelings you do, and being thankful may be one of them
  • Dogs live in the moment, never brooding over the past or fretting about next week, but living fully in what’s happening right now, which explains how they experience thankfulness
  • Of all the things humans are grateful for, including shelter, food and water, your dog is, too, which is why he’s often so happy to show it
  • The best food for your dog is nutritionally balanced and species-appropriate; even if he’s not aware of it, when you ensure he’s eating right, every meal is a little celebration
  • There’s grass to roll around in during the summer, leaves in the fall and snow in the winter, and with the changing of the seasons, your dog knows he’s got it good, and he’s thankful!

If you're lucky enough to have a devoted canine companion (or two) in your household, you already know one of the reasons dogs are called man's (or woman's) best friend: They know when they're loved, and they give back unconditionally — no reservations and no strings attached. Scientists say your dog's wagging tail and happy, expectant expression tell the "tail," because dogs really do have many of the same types of feelings humans do.

In fact, they not only have the same brain structures that produce emotion as humans do, they also have the same types of hormones and chemical brain changes that produce feelings of love and affection. There's even the suggestion that dogs may have the same emotions as the average 2-year-old toddler. According to Psychology Today:

"With the same neurology and chemistry that people have, it seems reasonable to suggest that dogs also have emotions that are similar to ours … Dogs go through their developmental stages much more quickly than humans do, and have all of the emotional range that they will ever achieve by the time they are 4 to 6 months of age (depending on the rate of maturing in their breed)."1

And Homesteading2 contends that dogs seem happy because they live in the moment. They don't brood over something that happened last week or fret about what might go wrong next week. They're content to live fully in what's happening right now. They're also forgiving and seem simply incapable of holding a grudge, so it may not be a stretch to say they're thankful, as well.

So at Thanksgiving, when you're counting such blessings as having a roof over your head, plenty of food to eat and water to drink, you can be sure your sweet friend is grateful, too, for so many things, and would tell you if he could. And there are many! Read on for a little more insight into things your dog is thankful for.

One of the Best Things About Thanksgiving: The Food

Ask anyone their favorite thing about Thanksgiving, and the overwhelming response will be "great food," and sometimes there's mention of favorite recipes that only appear on the table a few times a year. For dogs, though, every meal is a little celebration. Happy, healthy dogs savor every morsel!

But even if they're not aware of it, the best foods for dogs (and other animals) are species-appropriate. Like humans, dogs are sometimes unaware that what they want or what they're used to eating may not be the healthiest for them. However, studies show that given the choice, dogs (and cats, too) tend to choose foods that are very low in carbs, which makes sense, because their bodies don't require carbs. That's not what you'll find on most shelves when you look for options in the pet food aisle, though.

The fact is, when dogs eat foods that are biologically appropriate, resembling what their ancestors ate, their health and vitality improves exponentially. Imagine if your dog could eat the best foods for his body every day! And when you, your dog's most trusted human, feed him the foods that help him to thrive, he's grateful.

Your Dog Loves to Share the Love

Of all the things to be thankful for, love is at the top of the list, whether you're a person or a dog. One of the reasons holidays are so special is that you may have more time than you ordinarily do to spend time with your pup, and you can be sure he notices. To your dog, any moment you spend with him is the best moment of his day. Here are a few examples:

  • Exercise — That stroll down the street or vigorous jog on a nearby trail are things your favorite pup treasures. That's why you might find him standing next to the front door, maybe with a leash in his mouth. You're the one he goes to when it's time to get a little fresh air and sunshine, and you can see the gratitude (or maybe it's just excitement) he feels to be by your side.
  • Play timeGoofing around with your dog means more than just a chance for him to blow off a little steam. When your dog runs off with the flying disc and looks over his shoulder to see if you're going to join the fun, you know it's not just the thrill of the chase he's after. He's in dog heaven that you're including him in your own fun time.
  • Down time — Naps are wonderful, as every dog knows, but as much as your dog likes flopping down on the couch, front porch or spot of sunshine, it's enhanced in every way when he has a couch buddy or someone sitting nearby to enjoy those drowsy moments with. Needless to say, if you're the one next to him, your dog is also thankful for all the ear scratches, pats and hugs you give him.

Being Thankful: It's the Little Things

When you look around and see all the things that enrich your life, relationships are unquestionably at the top of the list. One reason you can acknowledge with no reservations that your dog is part of your family, and therefore one of your favorite "people," is all the love she showers on you every day.

Yes, the many things you have to be thankful for are never more appropriate than at Thanksgiving, but throughout the rest of the year, it's often the little things that enrich life. That's true for your dog, as well.

Far from living a life of struggle to survive, which is true for so many dogs who have nowhere to go, your dog may seem quite carefree and unconcerned. But the very fact that your protection and attention is a given means she's acquired a sense of belonging, and that's something you can both be thankful for.

Those little things come in many forms. The many "perks" of belonging are things you enjoy yourself. For you, it might be a small, unexpected gift from a loved one, an encouraging word from someone you respect, or a specialty coffee at your favorite local shop (and being able to actually wake up and smell it). Here's what they might look like from your dog's perspective:

  • Favorite toy — As Paw Culture observes, new toys are great, but your dog's go-to, tried-and-true plaything, whether it's his "security" blanket, assortment of ragged stuffed toys or chewed-up stick, is the best. It's just another little thing that makes like grand for your best bud.
  • Special treats — Sure, holidays are a time when everyone expects a little something special in the treat department, but on an everyday basis, recognition for a job well done is not lost on your devoted pup. He knows getting a treat is part of your love language.
  • Rides in the car — Ever notice that when dogs ride by in their owner's car, and they're either looking out the window or enjoying the breeze in their face, they never look sad? Some dogs see hopping into the family car for an excursion into town or even cross country as the most fun they've had all day. For all you know, it's just another little thing your dog is thankful for!

Something To Be Thankful for: Another Year Well-Lived

Holidays often provide the perfect time to slow down a little and smell the roses (or in the case of Thanksgiving, the turkey), and while you're savoring the flavor, it's possible your dog is taking in the fragrances himself, which can't help but heighten his sense of well-being and inclusion in the activities of the weekend.

Of all the things your dog is thankful for, though, you are at the top of his list. The adoring look you see in his eyes is the recognition that you provide him with all the physical comfort, physical and mental stimulation and affirmation he needs, and he'll never forget it! So as you count your blessings and recognize your dog as one of the big ones (regardless of his size), remember you dog is thankful right along with you. It's just one more thing that makes your dog a keeper.

Of all the grass to roll around in in the summer, leaves in the fall and snow in the winter; with all the friends your dog encounters at the dog park and on your daily walks; with the changing of the seasons that offer more chances to snuggle with his favorite human, and all the quiet times he experiences with his favorite humans, your dog knows he's got it good. Paw Culture adds:

"The holiday season is a time for visits from old friends and family from all over the place, and as much as you relish these times, so, too, does your pup … You take great care of your dog, and that doesn't go unnoticed. The thing your dog is probably most thankful for is living with such an awesome pet parent who cares so much about his health and well-being."3