If you've been on the end of such a memorable greeting, you've probably asked the question, can my dog tell how long I've been gone? Does he know how much time has passed since I walked out the door this morning, and is that part of the reason why he's so deliriously happy to see me?
To find out, we'll have to go digging for answers.
Signs Your Dog Thinks You've Been Gone a Long Time
How does your dog greet you when you get home? Does she bound to the front door to meet you and start jumping all over you before you've even had a chance to put your keys down?
Our furry friends can show us just how glad they are to see us again in many different ways. An enthusiastic greeting is one, while the classic signs of canine happiness (loose and wiggly body, relaxed eyes and a wagging tail) are also reliable indicators. A loving lick, a big cuddle and a desire to follow you from room to room and stay as close as possible complete the picture of a dog that has greatly missed your presence.
However, some dogs can show they've missed you in other, more destructive ways. With boredom and/or anxiety playing a role, these pets might decide to redecorate your living room, chew through your furniture, add a few new holes to your garden, or urinate and defecate throughout the house. All that, and you might have only been gone for an hour!
- Wag tail
- Jumping up
- An Enthusiastic Greeting
- Excitement and Energy
- Kisses and Cuddles
- Following You Around
- Destructive Behavior
The Science of Dogs Keeping Track of Time
In 2011, Swedish researchers Therese Rhen and Linda Keeling studied the behavior of dogs before, during and after their owner's absence. The results showed that dogs responded more intensely to their owners (more tail wagging, more attentive and higher energy levels) when they returned after two hours than after half an hour, suggesting that our pets can tell the difference between lengths of time. However, there was no difference in the dogs' responses following absences of two or four hours, raising the question of whether there's a limit on how long dogs can actually track time. The solution to this riddle lies in further research.
Of course, most dog owners can offer plenty of anecdotal evidence of their pet's ability to keep track of time. Not only does your pooch seem to know exactly when you're about to head to work or come home, but she's also quick to voice her complaints if dinner is even a couple of minutes late being served.
While our knowledge of whether dogs can tell the time is far from complete, we do know that all animals have a circadian rhythm, which is basically an internal body clock that roughly follows a 24-hour cycle and responds to light and dark in the animal's environment. It's entirely possible that dogs use this rhythm to keep track of when important events, such as dinner, are due to occur.
Another theory put forward by dog-cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz in her book Being a Dog is that dogs may actually be able to track time using their noses, using the absence, presence and strength of scents to anticipate when events will occur. For example, perhaps your pooch can tell when you're about to arrive home based on the strength of your scent at the front door.
Training Your Dog to Cope With Alone Time
- Leave her alone when you're at home. Being alone doesn't have to be associated with being home alone and with you leaving the house, so you can give your dog treats or a food puzzle to enjoy while you're in another part of the house.
- Start early. Start getting your puppy used to the idea of alone time as soon as you can. Give your pet 30 minutes to an hour of solo time in their crate or play area each day, and then gradually increase this time period as your puppy grows older.
- Treat time. Give your pup a treat or chew to enjoy when you're not at home. You could also provide an interactive food puzzle toy to provide a tasty reward and also help prevent boredom.
- Reduce anxiety. If your puppy gets stressed or anxious whenever you prepare to leave the house, try to reduce the fuss surrounding your leaving. For example, if your dog's anxiety ramps up whenever you pick up your keys or put on a coat, teach her that these cues aren't necessarily associated with you leaving.
If your dog is having serious trouble dealing with separation anxiety when you're gone, consider seeking help from a reputable dog trainer or behaviorist.
How to Entertain Your Dog When You're Gone
Tire them out. A tired dog is a happy dog, so giving your pooch plenty of exercise before you go out can help reduce their boredom and anxiety when left home alone. Instead of getting up to mischief or eagerly awaiting your return, your pooch might instead choose to take a nap.
Leave entertainment behind. If you know you'll be out for a while, consider leaving an interactive food puzzle toy for your dog to tackle. These provide a rewarding mental challenge and can keep some dogs entertained for hours.
Consider your options. You may like to consider finding a reputable dog minder, sending your pooch off to doggy daycare, or even getting a friend to pop in and visit your pooch to give them some company and interaction while you're away.