Five things dogs think about when you’re way
As dog owners, we have all thought about what our pets are thinking when we leave the house. It’s one thing if our dog is still crated and is comfortable going to his or her crate when it’s time for us to leave, but for dogs that have free reign of the house or apartment, it’s easy to wonder what they are up to while we are gone.
Perhaps a neighbor mentioned that when you leave, your dog mournfully howls or barks for most of the time. Clever, bored dogs may get into mischief. One owner reported that they had no idea that their dog was capable of opening doors and came home to find their child’s considerable bag of Halloween candy completely plundered, in many cases, wrappers and all.
But after some 30 years of formally studying canine behavior and how dogs think and rationalize, these are five things that most every dog thinks and feels when we leave them.
Dogs know when you’re leaving.
It may be the tinkling of car keys, picking up a purse or a cell phone, but there is always one dead giveaway that their human is getting ready to leave the house. They think about why and where you are going, and when you will return. Dogs possess the mental intellect equivalent to a two-year old child, and both understand the same number of words; about 160 to 250. In studies, dogs – similar to young children – were observed walking through the rooms of a house to confirm that the people in their pack were in fact not in the house any longer.
Dogs miss us.
They know the difference between us being gone for 15 minutes to run an errand versus three hours away. For some dogs, whether it is 10 minutes or two hours that you’re gone, it’s irrelevant to them, and they think about how much they miss you – by jumping, wagging, spinning or licking – and, for others, those short trips get just a happy nod on your return. It is when their sense of time tells them it has been longer than a matter of minutes, when their excitement and anticipation grow.
Dogs wonder why they can’t go with you.
If you take your dog along on many outings, they may wonder why they are not going too. They may shove their nose into the door opening, only to feel disappointment when you say, “No.” Their thoughts may be disbelief, and they jump to a window to catch a clue as to why they are not in the car, too. If a dog is accustomed to being left at home, they invariably have a routine that they have established. It may be sleeping at the top of the stairs, on their master’s favorite spot on the couch, or they may retreat to their crate or sleeping area for the sense of security it provides.
Dogs know when their mealtime is.
When their mealtime collides with your absence, a dog’s thoughts turn to frustration. “Don’t they know I eat NOW?! Where are they?” If you know you will not be home in time for their regular feeding, it is often best to leave a “puzzle” for them to solve, something to keep their minds working on other things besides the meal they may be missing. A tried-and-true puzzle can be made using peanut butter and kibbles stuffed into a Kong™ or other toy that permits you to fill it with goodies. They can work on that puzzle for 30 minutes or more, a long time for a dog to be focused on a singular task.
Mental activity and stress are almost always more tiring to a dog than physical exercise. When the realization sets in that you have left for an unknown amount of time, their thoughts race. They become super-attuned to the sounds around them in anticipation that it means you have come back; a car door closing on the street out front, a car horn honking, the sound of kids laughing or people talking, a wall clock chiming – all these sorts of sounds keep a dog’s mind working. Eventually, they tire and fall asleep.
Dogs dream in much the same way as humans, sometimes just as vividly, causing them to look like they are running in their sleep, whimpering, or curling their lips. They may be thinking of riding in the car with you, or a scene of you returning home, or perhaps a time that the two of you were playing in the yard, in a field or at the beach. They also experience the same REM cycles of sleep as people, so when you recognize they are dreaming, it is best to let the sleeping dog lie.
Like any relationship, empathy for what your dog experiences goes a long way. Dogs, like children, can experience stress and anxiety when their moms and dads are away. However, like all things in a dog’s life, if your leaving becomes something of a routine, and they know they may get a chew or a treat as part of your walking out the door, your dog will settle in well and acclimate to – however temporary it may be – life without you.
Just know that upon your return, their expressions of joy and relief will be obvious. Every dog owner wants to know that their companion has a sense of wellbeing whether they are with us or not. Consider these five things that your dog may be thinking about while you are away, and you and your four-legged friend are both well on your way to a greater sense of wellbeing.
Meyer’s Tails Up Farm is a complete retreat for your beloved pet. From lodging to daily daycare, grooming to training, we offer various services designed to help you grow a loving relationship with your dog. When caring for your best four-legged friends while you’re away, we pride ourselves on providing the ultimate safety, cleanliness, and specialized attention. Perhaps that’s why we are the #1 choice for dog lodging in Chicago and Rockford!