Do Dogs Miss Human Friends?

Many dog owners wonder if their canine companions truly miss them when they are away. As social animals, dogs form strong attachments and relationships with their human families. There’s no doubt that dogs are capable of feeling lonely when separated from their people. But do they experience the specific emotion of “missing” someone? The answer is complex and depends on individual factors. This article will explore the bonds dogs form with humans, signs they miss their people, concept of time, ways to ease separation, reuniting after absences, grieving loss, and how aspects like age and personality influence the tendency to miss human friends.

Dogs Form Attachments

Dogs form close attachments and bonds with their human families. Research shows that when dogs interact with their owners, they experience increases in oxytocin, a hormone associated with caregiving, bonding, and affection in both dogs and humans. This indicates that dogs feel a real attachment to their owners and families (Why Do Dogs Become Attached To One Person).

Because of this bond, dogs often experience distress when separated from their owners or families for long periods of time. Signs of distress due to separation include increased vocalization, destructive behavior, depression, and loss of appetite. The strength of a dog’s bond with a particular person can influence the intensity of separation distress they experience when that person is away (Is the Human-Canine Bond Unique?).

Signs of Missing Someone

When dogs miss their human friends, they may exhibit behaviors like whining, pacing, or loss of appetite. According to Rover, whining or barking is one of the most common signs a dog misses you while you’re gone.

TrustedHousesitters notes that dogs often wait by doors or windows when missing their owner, watching for them to return. The anticipation of your arrival can lead dogs to wait vigilantly in these areas.

Loss of appetite is another potential sign reported by PetHelpful. Some dogs are too distressed to eat normally when they are missing a loved one. Their sadness impacts their desire to eat.

Overall, distress behaviors like whining, restlessness, and changes in eating habits can indicate your dog is having a hard time with your absence. Familiar locations like doors and windows often become their lookout points while waiting for you.

Scent and Familiarity

Dogs have an incredibly powerful sense of smell that allows them to recognize the scents of their loved ones. According to research by Berns et al., dogs were able to distinguish the scent of their owners from the scents of unfamiliar humans in an fMRI study (Berns et al., 2015). The familiar scent of their owner lit up reward centers in the dogs’ brains. This research demonstrates that dogs form strong attachments and recognize their owners primarily through scent.

Being in a familiar environment like their home can also provide dogs with comfort. A dog’s sense of smell allows them to pick up on all the familiar smells of home, like their bed, their toys, and places they regularly hang out with their family. These familiar scents provide reassurance when their family members are away (Kokocińska-Kusiak, 2021).

Dog’s Concept of Time

Dogs do not have an innate understanding of time like humans do. Their sense of time relies more on changes in routines, environments, and people’s behavior. Dogs are believed to have episodic memory, allowing them to remember specific events, but their perception of how long ago an event occurred is limited.

This means dogs may struggle to grasp that an owner who leaves the house will be coming back later. From the dog’s perspective, the owner seems to have simply vanished. While they can form associations between certain cues like leashes, keys, shoes and an owner departing, they do not understand the full context.

Studies show dogs can remember events up to about 5 minutes, but their memory falters at longer timescales.
[1] Their short-term memory differs greatly from human ability to plan for and understand future events days or weeks away. So an owner’s absence, even if temporary, can be deeply unsettling and confusing for dogs.

Ways to Ease Separation

There are some simple ways to help ease your dog’s separation anxiety when you need to leave them alone:

Leave familiar scents and worn clothes. Leaving an old t-shirt or blanket with your scent on it can provide comfort to your dog while you’re gone. Your scent helps them feel like you’re still there with them (source).

Provide interactive toys as distractions. Giving your dog a food puzzle toy, chew toy, or Kong filled with treats can shift their focus to playing rather than stressing about being alone. The act of chewing or licking provides stress relief as well (source).

Reuniting After Absence

After a period of separation from their owner, dogs often demonstrate intense excitement and increased affection upon reuniting. Upon their owner’s return, dogs typically exhibit exuberant greetings. Tail wagging, jumping, licking, and vocalizations are common as dogs express their joy and relief.

Dogs who have been apart from their owner for an extended period may remain velcro dogs for a while post-reunion. They tend to follow their owner from room to room more closely than usual due to the comfort of their familiar company and scent after the absence. This period of clinginess allows the dog to reestablish their bond and regain their sense of security. The duration and intensity varies based on the dog’s temperament and length of separation.

One study documented the reunion of dogs with their owners after 6 months apart and found the dogs demonstrated extreme excitement and affection. Many whined, jumped, and tried to stay close physically upon reuniting (https://www.newsweek.com/dog-emotional-reunion-owner-airport-tiktok-1777139). This research illustrates how deeply dogs miss their people after extended periods apart.

Grieving Loss

When dogs lose a close human companion, they can exhibit severe withdrawal and loss of interest in their surroundings. As social animals, dogs form strong bonds with their human families, so the death of a loved one leaves them distressed and confused (AKC). Signs of grieving may include reduced appetite, lethargy, whimpering, searching behavior, and lack of responsiveness (Country Living).

The grieving process requires time and patience. Well-meaning efforts to cheer up a dog may backfire by minimizing their feelings. Allow the dog to grieve in their own way. Keep routines consistent, speak gently, and provide comfortable spaces for the dog to rest and process their emotions. Extra playtime with surviving family members can offer comfort too. Slowly re-engaging the dog in exercise and activities they enjoyed with the deceased can help restore optimism, once the initial rawness of grief subsides.

Individual Factors

A dog’s age, history, and personality play a role in how they handle separation from their human friends. Younger dogs who have recently left their litter may initially miss their littermates more than their new human companion. However, once they form attachments in their new home, they are likely to miss those special people during absences. According to research by Konok et al. (2015), a dog’s attachment style and personality influences their separation anxiety and behavior when left alone. For instance, dogs with insecure-avoidant attachment styles that avoid intimacy and closeness may cope better on their own. Meanwhile, dogs who crave constant companionship can become extremely distressed when left alone.

Some dogs simply adapt to change easier than others regardless of age or history. Highly sensitive dogs who thrive on routine and familiarity tend to struggle most during separations. They miss their beloved humans acutely. Breed disposition also plays a role. Herding breeds like border collies as well as toy breeds often form intense bonds and suffer more separation anxiety. Meanwhile, independent hound breeds generally handle alone time with less distress. With customized training, enrichment, and lifestyle adjustments though, dogs of all personalities can learn to be more comfortable when home alone.

Conclusion

In summary, dogs can get extremely attached to their human caretakers and deeply miss them during periods of separation. Signs of missing a person can include pacing, whining, loss of appetite, and waiting by doors or windows. A dog’s concept of time is different than ours, so even short separations can feel prolonged to them. However, there are ways we can make separations easier for our canine companions, such as leaving familiar scents and maintaining routines as much as possible. While happy reunions are often the outcome after time apart, dogs do grieve deeply when losing a close human companion. The depth of a dog’s attachment varies based on individual personality and life experiences. With patience and compassion, we can minimize the stress of separations and absences for our furry friends.

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