by Dr Jo Righetti, Animal Behaviourist
Do you ever wonder if your dog misses you when you are gone?
Dogs are our faithful, furry friends. Such adoring, unconditional support can be hard to find in a human friend or family member. Perhaps due to this mutual adoration, many dog owners feel guilty at leaving their dog behind when they go on holiday.
Should we worry? Do dogs really miss us? Well this may vary with our dog’s personality.
Some dogs are so overly bonded to their owners that they fret when left alone. Pacing, barking, trying to escape, inappropriate toileting and destructiveness are all common symptoms of separation anxiety.
This condition can be difficult for both owner and dog to cope with. Anxious dogs often react within minutes of the owner leaving home, sometimes even before their owners have departed. These distressed doggies certainly miss us – too much!
But what about dogs who are more chilled out at home, and simply snooze the time alone away or perhaps chew their toys, happy in their solitude? Do they miss us?
Well most of these relaxed pooches love to welcome us home again, after a departure. We can receive a delightful greeting even when we’ve only made the short trip to the garbage bin!
Dogs greet us with similar behaviours, no matter how much of the day we have been gone. This generally involves lots of physical activity, tail wagging, interactions with owners and attentive behaviour. The intensity of their greeting, however, may differ depending on the amount of time they have been alone. When left alone for 4 hours, dogs react more than when left alone for 30 minutes or even for 2 hours. The longer time apart, the more intense the greeting.
After the longer time apart, dogs also showed more lip licking and body shaking, perhaps indicting a tinge of anxiety. Having other people present and activities to occupy them may help dogs pass their time without you.
Some owners worry when they return after a holiday of several days or weeks and their dog appears to be less than enthusiastic. Providing your dog is in good physical health, this is generally not something to worry about. Your dog may be reacting to the unusual scents and objects (holiday souvenirs) around your home. Plus, in their doggy minds, they are ensuring that they are still welcome when re-entering the social group. These quieter dogs quickly readjust and return to normal.
Peace of mind?
For those overly anxious canines, reduce their separation-related distress requires by short separations, gradually building up time, making separations as positive as possible. In severe cases of anxiety, dogs may require medication to enable them to reduce stress levels. If you are planning on leaving your overly-bonded dog at home while you holiday, it’s best to start working on this issue months before your departure. Or ensure that your dog stays with someone who understands their devotion.
For the majority of dogs, however, they will settle in nicely to their minder’s household, especially if they have made friends already. Your dog may even enjoy the variety of new activities they experience. If you are comfortable with the environment and carers that you are leaving your dog with, your can relax and enjoy your break.
And you don’t have to worry that your dog will forget you. You can be sure of an enthusiastic greeting on your return!
More about separation anxiety and dog behaviour at Dr Jo’s website www.petproblemsolved.com.au.
About the Author
Dr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist with a background in zoology, a PhD in animal behaviour and 17 years experience helping people and pets. Jo works with private clients, companies, Government and not-for-profit organisations as well as in the media.