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Is Your Dog Waiting For You?
New study reveals that our dogs are affected by how long we're gone.

With dogs in the house, returning home—from a day at work or a trip to the mailbox—is cause for celebration, a wagging tail, the gift of a ball at your feet or even a little dance. You’re home! You’re home! But have you ever wondered why some parties are bigger than others? 


Recently, two Swedish researchers discovered that how long we’re gone makes a difference. In their study (published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science in January 2011), Therese Rehn and Linda J. Keeling videotaped individuals’ family dogs on three different occasions while they were at home alone for periods of a half-hour, two hours and four hours.


In each case, the dogs spent nearly all their time alone lying down. (Other studies have shown that in households with more than one dog, there’s less lying about when the humans are gone; there’s an approximately 12 percent difference in activity levels.) The key difference in behavior in this study came during the reunion: After the two- and four-hour separations, the dogs welcomed their humans with greater exuberance than after a half-hour absence— exhibiting more frequent lip-licking, body-shaking and tail-wagging.


According to Rehn and Keeling, the more intense greeting behavior may indicate a desire to reinstate the relationship and/or may be the animals shaking off stress. In any case, the important takeaway is that dogs are affected by the duration of their solo time. The study doesn’t reveal whether they are actually missing their humans, but it does suggest that dogs feel the time— and that has welfare implications we can’t ignore.

This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 63: Feb/March 2011
Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com
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Submitted by Ann | May 11 2011 |

This is such a sensitive subject for me because right now my job takes me away from home Monday through Friday and will soon evolve into weeks away before I can return.

Oddly enough I am a wildlife biologist and currently working on my graduate research which is forcing me to be gone from my beloved pack for excruciatingly long periods of time. Fortunately my back up team, (my husband) is holding down the fort. But, I am very homesick for my pups and my husband of course (I had to make sure I threw that in or risk getting an evil squint from him). Each time I return home the dogs go crazy. Of course, I am also to blame since I can't help intentionally making it a dog party because I missed them as well. Each of my dogs respond differently and age does seem to dictate the level of response. My mature dogs (5yr and 8yr) allow the pups (3yr and 9mos) to blow off excited steam before cutting into the frenzy. Of course my queen bee (the 8yr old) must remain dignified and approach with a more conservative butt wiggle before hogging my kisses and hugs. I hate, and I do mean hate, leaving them. So each reunion is tough knowing I must leave again. Though the research did not mention this, some of my pups, particularly the mature ones, know when I am getting ready to leave again and follow me like glue. I think they pay very close attention to the "signs." This is of course gut wrenching for me knowing that I must leave them again. I will be glad when I finish my work and the long trips are over!

Submitted by Lisa | May 13 2011 |

I try to make it as easy on my two dogs as I can.

I have two dogs, so that they are never alone. I also have cats, which one of my dogs has pretty well adopted (they wait for her at the front door when we go for walks, and she grooms them like they're her babies.)

I leave the radio on when I'm gone, the same channel always, so the voices are familiar.

I try to be predictable, so they don't suffer unnecessary anxiety about when I'm coming home.

I try to follow the same routine every day: get up, feed the cats, walk the dogs, feed the dogs, leave for work. I give them their food right before I leave, so they are preoccupied for a few minutes (most of the time they are so busy eating they ignore me as I leave.)

I also try to add little things to their food bowl to vary the tastes and smells - a little tuna, or some hard-cooked egg, or coleslaw (they love coleslaw!).

That being said, I know when I get home my beagle will be sleeping by the front door with her nose visible through the window, and when I enter the house she will run up the stairs and wait for me there at the top, joyously wagging her tail and waiting to lick my face.

And then it's feed the cats again and out the door for another walk, a nice long one (weather permitting)!

Submitted by Anonymous | September 13 2013 |

always wondered why people who are gone all day and cannot come home and relieve some of the dogs stress and alone time to let them out or to reconnect always go and get a puppy. The cage theory is worse and generally practiced . This this only be practiced up to small amounts of time to reach a goal of total house freedom. If this cannot be attained then people should reconsider getting a dog at all. This is one of the most common "rehoming" reasons and why people end up giving their dog away after a year.

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