Does my dog miss me?

I didn’t see my mutt Ace for more than two weeks while I traveled across North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California last month. Ace got to stay with my parents in Wisconsin.

I missed Ace terribly. But did he miss me? Nope.

One mistake people make is to project human emotions to their dogs. It’s easy to do. I admit it made me feel better to believe Ace and my cats missed me. In reality, they probably forgot I left. Someone else was feeding them, playing with them and giving them affection. That’s about all they care about. It’s part of being an animal and living in the moment.

When I drove away from my parents’ house without Ace last month, he paced and watched me intently. He was anxious when he realized I was leaving him behind because his usual routine is to be with me.

But the second my car was out of sight, Ace immediately moved on. Instead of pining over me, he grabbed his tennis ball and followed my mom and her dogs around. Whether or not I was coming back was not really an issue for Ace. When I finally did return, he was happy. But he would’ve been happy to see anyone, especially someone holding a tennis ball.

When I went to get Ace, he was happy to see me just because I was there, not because I’d been gone a long time. Once he saw me, he forgot I had been gone in the first place. He was like, “Oh, hey! Didn’t see ya there!”

Dogs react to our emotions

Black lab mix dog lying in the grass wearing an e-collar. Do dogs miss us?

If I were to walk out and get the mail and come back acting like I hadn’t seen my dog in two weeks, he would greet me with matching energy.

If you don’t know what I mean, give it a try.

Walk to the end of your driveway without your dog. Then go back inside, call out “Ace! I haven’t seen you forever, buddy!” and get down on your hands and knees. Your dog will use this opportunity to soak up some extra attention by rolling on the ground in front of you, licking you or at least wagging his tail.

It’s not that your dog is faking anything. It’s just that he truly picks up on your energy. That’s why people love dogs!

You could also try the same experiment, only this time walk through the door and completely ignore your dog. Don’t talk to him. Don’t touch him. Don’t even look in his direction. You will get a very different response than the first time you walked through the door.

If you want to teach your dog to be calm when people visit, the first step is to stop training him to act so excited every time you come home! It’s unfair to expect him to act one way when you come home and another way when guests visit.

A dog’s concept of time

Ace had no idea I’d been gone for two weeks.

One of the reasons I’m able to leave my dog when I travel is because I know he has a great time when I’m gone. If he thought about me at all, he wasn’t thinking about why I left, and he definitely had no concept of how long I’d been gone. Instead, he was thinking about his food, his toys, smelling the Wisconsin breeze and following my mom’s dogs around. I’m convinced he did not think about me at all.

Dogs do not worry about the past or the future. They make the best out of their current situations. It’s the reason why dogs can adapt to new homes or life in a shelter.

Ace adapted just fine when I adopted him from his previous owner. I like to think there’s something special about me, but Ace would adapt just fine to a third or a fourth home. As far as Ace is concerned, anyone willing to throw a tennis ball could provide him a pretty good home.

My dog is mad at me for leaving

I do a lot of pet sitting in Solana Beach, and I also worked at a boarding kennel for years. Through these jobs I’ve dealt with dog owners of all kinds. Many dog owners don’t understand their dogs and want to believe their dogs are pining over them the whole time they’re gone.

The dogs I take care of are always, always having a great time without their owners. Most dogs are going to have a great time with someone willing to walk them, run them, play with them, pet them and feed them. It’s very basic.

Does my black lab mix Ace miss me? Do dogs miss us when we're gone?Whenever Ace has stayed with anyone new or at a boarding kennel, he comes home exhausted from the extra mental and physical stimulation. He is somewhat introverted like me and needs to “recharge” after being around new people or new places. He will sleep for a good 36 hours when he comes home. The more tired he is, the more fun I know he had.

It’s as though Ace is thinking, “Well, there’s nothing going on here, time to catch up on some sleep.”

This lethargic behavior can cause dog owners to believe their dogs are holding grudges against them for leaving. This is not true at all. A dog is not capable of holding a grudge, because that would involve holding onto the past. If your dog is acting differently when you bring him home, it’s most likely because he’s tired.

I know that when my dog comes home from a pet sitter’s house or a kennel, he is just catching up on some well-needed rest. He is not sick or depressed, and he has no bad feelings towards me for leaving him.

I’m tired after a vacation or a day of hard work, and so is my dog. It’s as simple as that.

In what ways do you accidentally humanize your dog? How does your dog act when you come home?

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  1. LS on March 2, 2014

    I think you are mistaken. My dog most certainly misses me and I feel terrible about it. I recently separated. I left my ex at the house we previously shared with both our dogs. When I came home today he cried like he was hurt physically. It was awful. I can tell he is depressed. There is nothing I can do at the moment. I have let him down and I hate it.

  2. Lucy on April 13, 2014

    I have a daughter who has recently got married and she has a odd that has always lived with us bf does not like her dog bc he is so protective over her so she moved out recently and left the dog here at my home , does the god know she is gone will he be ok will he get over it , he walks to her room and sees nothing is left but all his play toys in her room and walks out ….please help me

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 13, 2014

      I think the dog will be OK. Dogs are really good at adapting if we let them. You can help him by sticking to a regular routine that includes walks and some training, things he will enjoy but will also help calm him.

  3. Lucy on April 13, 2014

    I ment to say my daughter has a dog

  4. Molly on June 30, 2014

    i’m glad i found this article; i am about to leave soon for two weeks and i too am concerned about my dog; i left before but not for so long; when i called home to ask how she was, my familly told me that she was ok, not sad, with healty appetite and playful; i hope this will happen again;
    thanks again for this article

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 30, 2014

      It’s so hard to leave them, but I’m sure your dog will do OK.

  5. leonffs on July 7, 2014

    Hmm I don’t know about that. When I was a kid and my older brother was in college, our dog would absolutely flip out crying and barking, and even accidentally pissing on the floor when he would return after being gone for months.
    You can see the same kind of dramatic behavior with pets reunited with owners after military service.
    There definitely seems to be a marked difference in their behavior after a long period of absence. I would definitely love to see some scientific research that tests this and quantifies it.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 7, 2014

      I tend to think it’s how the human reacts and the dog responds to that emotion, but that is only my opinion. Of course, dogs do miss their people on some level. I’m oversimplifying it to say they don’t miss us at all.

      That would be interesting to see some research. I know my parents’ dog (who is generally overly emotional/excited) goes nuts when she sees me once a year – jumping, crying, squealing. I love that she gets so “happy” so I know subconsciously or consciously I’m encouraging it in some way.

  6. Kels on July 15, 2014

    Dogs don’t forget. I have a wolf and a black lab and I was gone for a year. When I came back they came charging at me. My lab was cry howling and putting his head between my legs whimpering and my wolf was prancing around and jumping on me.
    Yeah, they don’t forget

  7. Anna on July 16, 2014

    My boyfriend and I have a dog together which we’ve had since he was 4 weeks old and he is now a year old. I’m growing increasingly concerned as our relationship deteriorates how my dog will react once he’s no longer going to be seeing his “dad” anymore. In the event of us breaking up I would be moving to another state and the chance they’d see each other again is unlikely. What should I do? Will he be okay?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 16, 2014

      Your dog may be a bit sad for a few days, especially if you are sad. But dogs adapt really well to new situations. If you can get into a comfortable routine again once you move, it will likely help your dog move on with you.

  8. Kai on September 3, 2014

    Some of the things you wrote are acceptable, but most of them are just untrue.
    A dog is faithful to his owner and will miss him. The only reason a dog wouldn’t act like that is because he doesn’t see you as a “partner” or is a dog that doesn’t value partnership in general. As an example I can tell you what happened in my case.
    We have a family dog, a Maltese.
    My mom and I always fought about who Chili (her name) likes most but recently it was too obvious about who she sees as her partner. When my parents went on a trip, Chili barked a few times to make them notice her and that was that. She then stay around me no matter where I went.
    But, when I was gone, things were a bit different. She kept going on the floor where my room is located and stayed in front the door to my room. She remained there for hours every day.

    Also, there were various occasions when I got home and wasn’t really in good mood to salute my dog in an energetic way or in a way with which I would show any kind of happiness. But every time I open the front door, she comes out and starts running around me like mad, barking and squealing out of happiness of seeing me again. I remember that once, when she was still young, she got so happy that she started peeing. She just couldn’t hold it in.
    Another good example was that recent video of a dog that fainted of all the happiness when her partner came back after (i think) 3 years of studying in another country.

    Based on my experience I can say that dogs (and at least a few more animals) have feelings, but same as humans, they have preferences as well. They won’t like everyone and won’t miss everyone in the same way.

  9. Orly on September 26, 2014

    Thank you for this post! My husband and me are leaving for our honeymoon tomorrow and it’s the first time we’ll leave our dog at a dogsitter she’s not familiar with (we usually leave her with my dad, whom she knows and loves) and there will be other dogs there, too. I was super anxious and worried that she will think we abandoned her… Your post made me feel much better 🙂

  10. Bobbie on December 21, 2014

    You are wrong, they have videos of Dogs to haven’t seen each other and they run and cry and carry on. Wolves do this too when they’ve been apart from each other. Lots of videos of Veterans who come home after Months to Years and they will sneak in and surprise the dog and they go nuts crying and running in a celebration that they are home again. It’s pure love. Also, for one example president Franklin Roosevelt had a dog named Fala he was a Scottish Terrier and they were inseparable, when FDR died that dog wouldn’t eat or drink he wanted to be near the President’s bed or his desk. He did eat and drink and lived with Eleanor Roosevelt until 1952 he was 12 and is the only Presidential Pet who has a Statuary right next to his master’s (FDR’s Statue). New studies of blood levels of “love” hormones have been done and they are finding that indeed animals have feelings. Ever hear of an animal not eating though they have no health problems? It is depression and it can end up killing them. Just because they don’t have the speech that we humans use or the muscles in their faces that show expressions does NOT mean that they have no feelings of love or affection or caring. That’s foolish with all we know these days.

  11. Ginny on April 12, 2015

    I just got a German Shepherd 7 weeks ago. He is 17 weeks old. I have an opportunity to have him go to boarding and training school for 3 weeks. My concern is that he will forget me because I haven’t had him for that long and he’s young. Any thoughts, suggestion, etc? Do you think he’s too young for this boarding school? Do you think he will forget us?

  12. Yaneth on January 8, 2016

    Hello, my sister wanted a dog for her four daughters, they are ten years of age and below, so I bought a German Shepherd, she was two months old, after three months being with us, I decided to give her away because I didn’t like the way how my sister would treat her. It has passed one day, and I miss her so much, every time I think of her, I start crying. I don’t know what to do.

  13. Valkyrie on April 17, 2016

    My parents got a black lab puppy in January, and I was lucky enough to come visit when they brought her home at 7 weeks (I’m an adult who dosent live with them, but our view is I’m her “big sister” and she’s my dog too). We spent a few days together, sometimes alone, and then I had to go back to my place. I’ve visited twice since then, same duration and me taking care of her alone sometimes, about to visit a third, about once a month, and every time I see her she goes a bit more nuts for me. Last time I was there (she was 4 months at that point), and she peed when she saw me, whimpered, the whole nine, just like your article says. However, Tikka, even for a puppy, is usually a chill little dog. Dosent care when the phone rings, doorbell, thunder, etc, and calmly greets visitors. Meanwhile she looses it when she sees me. Even when I would calmly come out of my room in the morning and she’d be chilled out on the floor, she’d see me and ambush me. One day she was waiting for me and pounced on me when I opened my bedroom door. When I left she laid down in front of the front door and gave us the whale eye, and had to be moved so I could leave, and my mom said she then sat at the front window and cried till my mom comforted her. She also lost her mind when she heard me on speakerphone the other day, barking her face off when she’s usually quite quiet. I know she’s happy and healthy and loved with my parents and I keep telling myself she dosent miss me when I’m gone, but I can’t help but interpreting these signs that she misses me terribly, despite your informative article. Do I have it all wrong?

  14. Haylee on April 21, 2016

    Hi! I love this article.
    I just got a eight week old toy poodle last Monday. Baxter and I are so attached and since he was so young when I got home he didn’t fully get to learn all his social and behavioral issues from his mom. But I believe that to him I am his mom now. I only had him a week until I had to leave town last minute for work for a week so he is staying with my boyfriend and my boyfriend is taking care of him while I am gone. I had two trips planned which allowed me to come home after just two and half days for a few hours until my next flight. I was really nervous when I got back he wouldn’t be attached to me anymore and would like my boyfriend more. When I went home for the few hours he was so excited to see me but it didn’t last that long. He started crying for my boyfriend to hold him and play with him etc. I got really upset. Does he like my boyfriend more since I left him? I have only had him a week and then my boyfriend will have been watching him a week so is he confused who is his owner? I just left this morning for my next trip and will be home in a couple days, but I am nervous and sad if he does the same thing he did after my other short trip. This trip is a little longer so does he hate me for leaving again?:( and does he know I’m mommy? Or does he want my boyfriend to be his owner now?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 23, 2016

      It will be just fine. He will learn to love you both if you both take care of him from time to time. Enjoy your trips. He will continue to bond with you when you get back. Congrats on your new puppy!

  15. SUSAN on June 1, 2016


  16. Molly on August 14, 2016


    So, I usually don’t write comments on these types of things, but I’m feeling a little desperate for some reassurance.

    I had my boy, Cooper, since he was a tiny pup (8 or 12 weeks old, not sure). He’s now 3. I recently decided to re-home him. I feel very guilty and am still very heartbroken over this whole situation. I graduated college and accepted a job that requires me to travel 80% of the year. When I travel, I work 13 hour shifts, 7 days a week, and stay in hotels. I tried bringing Cooper along for the ride one time. I hired a dog walker and did everything I could to try and tire him out before my shift. He ended up being so stressed out that he was ill with blood in his stool when we would go outside.

    I decided that he deserves a more stable environment where he isn’t as lonely. I loved this dog more than anything and it was, and still is, the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life.

    I found a great home for him, a couple that I really trust is giving him the love and attention that I did.

    In summary, I have two stupid questions:

    1. Do you think I was wrong to choose my job over my dog?

    2. Do you think he’s upset, sad, heartbroken, depressed, or anything of that sort because I’m not with him anymore?

    Thank you for your time and your advice. This article really helped me cope with this.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 15, 2016

      Hi Molly. I’m so sorry you had to make this difficult choice but it sounds like you made the right one. I’m glad you found your dog a loving family and it sounds like they are a better match. In general, dogs are very capable of adapting to new homes which is why so many dogs are successfully adopted every day. Sure, you and your dog had a very special bond but that doesn’t prevent him from bonding with a new family. Not that this makes it any easier for you. I’m sure it’s been very difficult.

  17. Gail K on August 17, 2016

    I believe my dog missed me (us) after a one week vaca. He follows me everywhere and won’t stay outside for a long time if I come in like he used too. I feel he thinks I’ll leave him again.

  18. Janeine on August 22, 2016

    I became separated from my Italian Greyhound. It’s been 11 days. I had him for 10 years. Does he sit around thinking about me, missing me, feeling sad, and abandoned? He is living with another lady who has 2 other Italian Greyhounds. She said on the phone that he is doing awesome and playing with the other dogs. But, what about when he is NOT playing or getting attention from the lady? Is he thinking about me, then?

  19. Chris on November 22, 2016

    I feel like I can’t cope and it’s damaging my relationship with my family.
    I had a little pug who my children & I adored. He was our first pet & was quickly part of the family. We got him when he was only a few months old and had him for about two years.
    My husband had to take a job abroad in a developing country. We had no choice but to join him. We didn’t want to take our dog with us yet as we heard terrible horror stories regarding the safety of animals in middle eastern countries.
    The responsible thing to do was to leave him with a friend. I told this friend I would even pay her & she said no!
    I obviously left all his documents with her & have updated the vet on our situation but he’s still registered to me as the owner.
    He was 100% housebroken & an amazingly loving creature. She doesn’t believe in setting boundaries for animals (free spirit etc) and was telling me of his messing in the house & chewing furniture etc.
    I told her that he’s testing your boundaries & you must enforce our rules (if you wanna call it that) for her sake & his! She didn’t listen & kept having some problems. I kept offering to pay & give her money but she said no. I originally left her a few hundred pounds and also forced her to accept a bank transfer from me. Anyway a few months passed and I sent him a xmas card & she started hinting they want to keep him. I told her that it seems he’ll be fine with us in this new country & it’s our plan to collect him when we can. There are no dog parks here & it’s hot BUT it’s a dry heat (not humid at all) and only very hot in the day in June/July/August. I told her I couldn’t just go to the uk to collect him as the kids have school and I have to figure out what he needs to get done etc in order to come here (he has an EU passport but that’s not accepted here as it’s not the EU) she tried to convince me I’m being selfish etc. that her kids, dog, cats & rabbits have all bonded with him & I should give him up. In short the answer was no! I told her I think it’s best I just take the kids out of school & come to the uk to get him.
    She was lovely and understanding & said not to worry, she’d happily hold onto him until our situation is ready! Stupid me believed her!
    2 months or so later I told her we’ll be passing through the uk for a few days for a family wedding in Spain & I wanted to visit them all etc
    (I wanted to asses his happiness & their attachment) (in truth I was open to the possibility if we felt it was the right thing to do upon assessment) (we could always visit etc when we’re there). We booked a crappy hotel 5 mins from her house just so we could be closer to them (rather than staying at my mums 20 mins away) she told me she was very sick & then only replied to my messages after we’d left for Spain (the wedding) I was upset but gave her the benefit of the doubt.
    I told her that in the summer my kids & I will be in the uk for a few months.
    We want to see him & chat and also catch up as “friends” our kids were also friends & I thought she was a real friend and I missed her. I txt her a week after we arrived. No reply. I waited to see if she’ll reply but didn’t. She had blocked me on fb, changed her number and email address!!!
    I plucked up the courage & went to her house 3 weeks later. I heard her talking to her new bf so I knew she was home!
    I rang the bell, no answer! Rang & waited 2-3 mins about 5 times, no answer! I broke down I started talking to her through the window. My dog heard me & was barking excitedly (I know his barks lol) no response from her! So I stood there balling whilst continuously ringing the bell & saying I know she’s home etc & im not leaving!
    (I had left my kids with mum & went when hers were at school) she flung the door open screaming vulgarities at me in her nightdress!) Wouldn’t allow me inside or to even view my dog through the locked glass porch door dividing us! I literally got on my knees & begged. She said no! She explained her illnesses & life events right now & I explained mine. She tried to insinuate that I even threatened to sell my dog!! WTF??? WHAT?! NEVER!
    The police etc is on my side but I’m back in the other country now & have no one to take him. She said she’ll give him to me for 6.5k (another long story) (basically boarding costs etc). My husband thinks it’s best for the dog to stay with her. She is an animal lover & he would be treated well. Here he won’t have the same kind of park life etc! I tried to let go! It’s been a year & im literally crying even writing this & cry EVERY SINGLE NIGHT since “the ordeal” in the summer! My heart physically hurts at all this and I don’t know what to do! If I knew that was the last time I would’ve seen him we would’ve said goodbye properly! My soul hurts at this injustice! Do you think he thinks of us too? Does he think we don’t love him & miss him? This is SO hard! I can’t seem to get past it all!