Dogs and humans have a unique bond. Over the centuries the two species have evolved a strong social bond; in other words, we really like dogs, and dogs really like us, which is why they’ll follow us around no matter what and why they recognize us even if they don’t see us for years. And it turns out that social bond is so powerful, there’s nothing dogs want more. And yes, that includes food.
The study, conducted by Emory University, sought to see just how deep the dog/human bond went, and the short answer is “very.” Researchers put dogs in open MRIs and offered them either praise from their owner or food rewards while measuring their brain activity. Far and away, they wanted their human. The MRI results showed the most stimulation to the reward areas of the brain when the canines got praise. Not that they would turn down some food, mind you.
The results weren’t entirely consistent, of course, because every dog is different, and the sample size was small. Still, it held true for 13 of 15 dogs, and when tested outside the MRI, with a maze that had the dog choose between human and food, the MRI results tended to predict the maze results. In other words, yes, your dog really does love you. Science proves it, so go give them a scratch.