Do our dogs miss us when we're away?

Jana has, in my opinion, a highly developed sense of justice and of what she deserves from me. If I leave her home at a time that she believes to be inappropriate, or if I have neglected to give her her due (be it a meal, a walk, or sufficient attention) before leaving, she makes her displeasure clear. Since puppyhood, she has communicated her pique by removing items from the bathroom trash and shredding them. She leaves the remnants next to the trash can. She does not do this every time I leave her, or even very often. But, should I leave the house close to her dinner time, say, or early in the morning without having taken her for our usual walk, I’d better empty the trash first or I will face the consequences. On my return, I get the usual exuberant greeting from Jana. She’s not one to hold a grudge, after all. But she’s always honest about her true feelings.

I’ve certainly seen other dogs act disappointed to be left, but Jana’s the only dog I know who appears to deliberately retaliate. Certainly, many dog owners believe that dogs who chew furniture or shoes, or dogs who eliminate in the house are retaliating for being left or other sins of their humans. I think that in most cases, there is another explanation for these common doggy misdeeds. But I suppose it is possible that dogs everywhere are communicating their displeasure in ways that make sense to them. I certainly believe that dogs feel complex emotions and are capable of acting on them. And yes, I do think that they miss us when we’re gone. What do you think?

I recently returned from a two-week trip. Jana was clearly happy to see me and did her usual extra-exuberant welcome dance. Wylie seemed very pleased to see us as well, though he seemed wistful as he watched the dogsitters leave. Oriel plunged into what looked like the deepest, darkest depression. She still lies by the front door, awaiting the return of her new, and preferred, mommy.

Our dogs were home with a wonderful young couple. They have cared for our dogs in the past. Oriel adores them and has made it clear that she’d rather be their dog. Wylie loves them, especially the guy half of the couple, and he sorely misses young male companionship in his daily life. Jana, not the world’s cuddliest dog, snuggles up to me often in the days after I return from a trip.

I used to care for a friend’s two dogs while she took sometimes lengthy trips. One would welcome her home with unrestrained joy. The other gave her the silent treatment for a few days after each trip.

Are these reactions typical? I would say that a range of reactions to our absences are normal for dogs. This is true not only of long trips but also of routine daily absences.

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