Does my dog miss me?



Note: Check out my ebook on how to help a dog with separation anxiety.

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 :)

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