Whether you’re returning from a week long trip, a day at work, or even a couple hours of running errands, there’s no doubt the first thing you do when you arrive home is greet your dog. Regardless of how long you’ve been gone, we’d bet there’s a good chance that your pup makes a big show upon your arrival. But is this display because your dog actually missed you when you were gone?
As it turns out, the answer to this question is yes, your dog does miss you when you’re gone. To determine this, researcher Gregory Berns spent two years training dogs to sit still in an MRI machine so that we can better understand how their brains work. Not only did Berns successfully train dogs to do this, he discovered some pretty fascinating things about a dog’s mind.
As the dogs patiently waited in the MRI machine, Berns and his team presented them five different scents: their own scent, a familiar human, a strange human, a familiar dog, and a strange dog. What they discovered was that when dogs were exposed to the scent of a familiar human, a certain brain region involved in positive expectations and reward was activated.
While these results are fascinating, does it actually mean that dogs miss us or simply prefer the scent of familiar company? To answer this, a different research team tested to see how dogs react when different people leave that the room the dog is in. The results showed that each of the dogs would wait behind the door that their owner left through, but not the door that strangers exited. If you ask us, this is a pretty good indication that our pups actually miss us, not just company in general, when we’re gone.
Does Time Matter?
But does the amount of time you’ve been gone have any impact on our pup’s loneliness? While dogs may not be able to tell time, it appears that their behavior is impacted by the length of time you’ve been gone.
In a third study, researchers measured a dog’s response to their owners return at 30 minutes, 2 hours, and 4 hours. The dogs showed more excitement for their owners return after 2 hours than 30 minutes, but the difference between 2 hours and 4 hours was minimal. This suggests that they are aware when their owner has been gone for an extended length of time, but not the exact amount of time. Instead, it’s likely that dogs judge time by changes in their body, such as the need to go to the bathroom or feelings of hunger.
Now that we know that our dogs miss us when we’re gone, why is it that some dogs are better able to deal with this separation than others? Unfortunately, some dogs experience something called separation anxiety when they’re away from their owners.
The way that separation anxiety is displayed varies from dog to dog, but is often characterized by depressive or destructive behavior when left alone. Some dogs will begin to bark and howl minutes after their owner leaves, whereas others try to escape or chew on objects, doors, and even window frames.
We don’t know exactly why some dogs experience separation anxiety and others don’t, but we suspect that it is due the stress that comes with a change in guardian or family, household members, or even schedule. Fortunately, with proper training dogs can learn to enjoy, or at least tolerate, their alone time. While it doesn’t mean that they miss their owners any less, they are better able to control their feelings of loneliness.
Check In On Your Pet
With new technology, you can keep tabs on your pet during the day and even let your pet hear your voice through Petcube, which offers an interactive line of camera products. This idea to communicate with your pets remotely started as a successful Kickstarter campaign.
So next time you head out the door, take a second to give your pup an extra pet (but don’t make a fuss) and let them know that you’ll be back soon and if anyone ever gives you a hard time about missing your dog, you can tell them that the feeling is mutual.