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
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.
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?
Get That Mutt's newsletter in your inbox: