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Do Dogs Really Miss Us?

Updated on January 6, 2016
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We would like to believe that our pets actually miss us, rather than missing out on what’s outside. But do dogs really miss us when we’re gone?

First of all we need to think about relationships. Humans miss other humans because we have an emotional connection to them, we have the capacity to bond and love. And so do dogs. It’s just a little harder to figure out How Dogs Love Us. Which is where neuroscientist Gregory Berns
comes in.

He trained dogs to willingly go into an MRI machine and stay there so we can study their brains and behavior. In one of his studies, researchers gave the dogs 5 scents. Their own scent, the scent of a familiar and strange dog, and the scent of a familiar and strange human. What they found was that a certain brain region involved in positive expectations and reward was activated the most by the scent of the familiar human. The dogs had a positive association with that person.

dog waiting for owner
dog waiting for owner | Source

It’s still difficult to say whether dogs miss their owners when they leave, or if they just miss familiar company. Another study looked at how dogs behavior changed around people with different degrees of familiarity; their owner, another familiar person and an unfamiliar person. They found that dogs preferred their owner. In one of the tests, dogs would wait behind a door that their owner went through, and not the other people.

Do dogs have a perception of time?

But I’ve always wondered if your dog knows how long you’ve been gone. Do they have a perception of time? Another study looked at the effect of time left alone on dog’s behavior. After 2 hours of being left alone, dogs greeted their owners with more intensity, think more tail wagging and lip licking, than 30 minutes of being left alone. But there was no difference in their greeting between 2 and 4 hours. So we’re not certain if dogs are aware of the length of time they’re alone, but their behavior is affected by it.

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While a dog’s perception of time may seem unclear, we are comparing it to our human perception. Animals have circadian rhythms like us and if enough time passes they’ll feel hungry. Research suggests that dogs process visual information at least 25% faster than humans, so, sadly, to them a YouTube videos or movies as a set of weirdly flickering images. But this means they can react to threats more quickly in the wild. And when they’re in a stressful situation, the images look really detailed and kind of in slow motion like the Matrix. And dogs do see their owners as “the one.” They do miss us, whether it’s for half an hour or a short vacation. For me, the feeling’s mutual.

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