If your dog frequently checks in with you and can’t stop looking at you, they have probably imprinted on you. Pet parents love their furry companions deeply, and dogs do too, but most form a special connection with that one person, a deep bond surpassing that of others.
Dogs form deep attachments with their primary caregivers, particularly during puppyhood. When a dog imprints on their favorite person, they follow them, light up around them, and snuggle their items. Anything to feel closer to their chosen one. Irrespective of this, dogs still love other people deeply.
Here, we take a closer look at how dogs interact with the world around them, particularly humans, who form the biggest part of a canine’s life. So grab your favorite dog cologne because it’s about to get cuddly with your dog if they have or will imprint on you.
How Do You Know Your Dog Has Imprinted on You?
Your dog following you, getting incredibly excited when you return, and seeking your companionship are signs they’ve imprinted on you. While dogs are overall affectionate creatures, they seem to crave the attention and affection of their favorite humans a bit more.
Dogs greatly depend on their imprinted person, like checking in with them in new environments and mirroring their behaviors and actions. Some dogs don’t seem to favor any particular family member, while most don’t hide their preference. It all really depends on the individual dog and their personality.
To better know if your dog has imprinted on you, you need to understand what dog imprinting is and how it comes about.
What Does Imprinting in Dogs Mean?
Imprinting in dogs means bonding with the primary provider of comfort, safety, and food. The dam (mother dog) is the first being that a dog imprints on during the early critical stages of life while their eyes are still closed and undeveloped. Dogs usually attach to humans after they are weaned.
Imprinting was initially described among precocial species (animals born with sight, smell, and other senses formed), where the animals modeled the behavior of the first moving thing in sight. You may have seen or heard of a duck following a human as their mother.
Unlike ducks, healthy dogs don’t see themselves as human when they imprint on someone; but dogs have evolved to become deeply attached to humans.
Dog imprinting happens in stages:
Canine Imprinting Stage (0 to 8 weeks)
As newborns with no hearing and eyes that don’t open for about two weeks, puppies exclusively rely on their mothers for survival. The first bond a dog makes is, therefore, with the dam.
After four weeks and with their senses, puppies begin interacting with their littermates. During the canine stage, dogs basically learn how to be a dog, especially from the dam. Due to this crucial socialization stage, responsible breeders let go of puppies at 8 to 12 weeks.
Human Imprinting Stage ( 8 to 12 weeks)
Most people adopt and buy puppies at this age. Here, puppies interact and start forming bonds with humans. It’s essential to expose your puppy to various people and animals at this time for a well-socialized dog in the future.
Fear Imprinting Stage (8 to 10 weeks)
Puppies are vulnerable to racking up lifelong trauma at this stage. It’s crucial to avoid uncomfortable situations as much as possible at this age because distress can quickly turn into a phobia. As puppies develop, they go through “fear periods” where they suddenly become far more cautious around objects they may previously have ignored.
Fear periods are a delicate time in a dog’s development, as a bad experience can cause a lifelong phobia. For example, a bad experience with a bigger dog during a puppy fear period can cause a lifelong issue with other dogs. The dog breed also plays a large role in how dogs imprint at this stage.
Some signs your dog has imprinted on you include:
1. They Follow You
If your dog is your self-appointed shadow, they’ve imprinted on you. Your dog will follow you constantly because they see you as their best friend. As pack animals, your dog will follow you everywhere to ensure that the most valuable pack member is adequately protected.
AKC shares more on dogs following your around. However, keep an eye out for this behavior as it can indicate separation anxiety which should be addressed promptly.
2. They Get Incredibly Happy to See You
Your dog greeting you with uncontrollable wags is probably the highlight of your day; theirs too. Dogs get excited when their favorite people return as their way of showing them how much they’ve missed them.
You may have been gone for only a few minutes or hours, but your dog’s big smile could swear it’s been days. The wagging greetings are your dog’s way of saying they love and miss you.
3. They Mirror Your Behavior and Mood
New studies have shown that dogs mirror their owner’s stress. Dogs are intensely emotionally in touch with humans reacting to anger, fear, happiness, surprise, disgust, and sadness. Owners that spend the most time with dogs observe increased synchronization of emotions between them.
Emotional contagion occurs when dogs portray empathy for their loved ones experiencing negative emotions. You’ll see your dog trying to nuzzle you more or stay by your side when you’re having a bad day. Other dogs can start exhibiting the same emotions as their owners, such as depression.
Dogs also mirror the actions of those they’ve imprinted on. You’ll see your pup lift their hands like you; We’ve even seen some try to do yoga like humans.
4. They Seek Physical Affection and Attention from You
Dogs are eager for physical connection with humans as it makes them feel closer to them. Your dog will try to lick your face and lie on your or your body. This is actually instinctual, dating back to when dogs lived in packs and lay on each other for warmth and protection.
A small nose bop or a pat on the back can feel very satisfying for your dog, even increasing happy hormones like oxytocin. Your loving pooch will also appreciate belly rubs and scratches, although not all dogs love them equally.
In case your pup’s snuggle session ends in a smelly mess, fix that by making your dog smell good without a bath.
5. They Maintain Eye Contact
Dogs stare at loved ones to express affection, which is essential in human-dog communication. Eye contact is one of the signs that your dog is obsessed with you when they look up at you with those puppy eyes. Another subtle sign of affection in body language is dog winking at you.
Usually, eye contact is an implicit sign of threat in the animal kingdom signaling physical aggression. While dogs have evolved non-threatening eye contact with loved ones, it can trigger aggression in unfamiliar dogs.
6. They Check in on You, Especially in New Environments
You’ll notice your dog sneaking a peak when you’re going for a hike or even when visiting friends. Your dog checks in on you to ensure you’re okay and to reassure themselves too. In new environments, your dog will look at you constantly to relax.
It’s a sign of affection when your dog randomly pops in to have a look, then goes back to their business, such as sleeping. Frequently checking in on you is also a strong sign that a dog has a high level of engagement with you, which means that communication between you and your dog is going well.
Side note: Don’t confuse dogs who show aggression or tension if somebody comes near you as signs your dog is guarding you. This is resource guarding. This is bad behavior in dogs because the dog sees you as a possession, like a bone, that they need to guard. This is not a healthy mindset.
7. They Listen to Your Commands More Readily
A well-trained dog listens to commands from most people, but if your dog has imprinted on you, they’ll listen to you more. High responsiveness is a positive sign that your dog has bonded with you deeply because they’re trying to please you.
A strong recall is particularly important as it can save your dog from potentially dangerous situations. Take advantage of your dog’s increased affection and eagerness to please you to train them from puppyhood.
8. They Like to Snuggle Your Stuff
Dogs are notorious thieves of shoes and socks. While it may be hard to grasp their fascination with such smelly items, these make them feel close to their loved ones. Dogs have a sense of smell thousands of times stronger than humans.
Dogs are attached to their loved one’s scent, so they snuggle their possessions, like piles of laundry, shoes, and beds. We have covered why your dog smells if you’re having an issue with doggy odor.
9. They are More Relaxed Around You
A dog loves you when they have a relaxed posture, wiggling body, and a soft gaze when relaxed around you. Dogs show their bellies as a sign of trust and comfort because, in this position, many vital organs, such as the stomach, are exposed.
How to Make Your Dog Bond with You
Perhaps you got your dog past their puppy age and want them to bond with you. Spending more quality time with your dog allows them to form an attachment and imprint on you.
- Feed your dog because they bond most deeply with their nurturers that provide food and comfort
- Take your dog for walks and play dates to increase the bond by spending quality time
- Train your dog to establish trust and obedience when they see you as the leader of the pack
- Establish a firm play and food routine so that your dog has something to look forward to daily
- Groom your dog to spend quality time
- Give them their alone time, especially if they’re crate trained, and view the crate as a safe space
Dogs are affectionate beings capable of showing an immense love for their owners. Most dogs bond most deeply with the special person whom they imprint on, even though they still love others intensely. The human imprinting stage happens mostly as puppies, but older dogs can still form deep bonds with their owners.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.
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