Missing You?

Does Jana still miss her best friend, Oriel?
Does Jana still miss her best friend, Oriel?

Do dogs miss us when we’re away? Do they miss places they’ve been or items they’ve loved?

It’s clear that dogs remember people and places — and often, the landmarks or scents on the way to places that they either love or hate. Dogs can recognize a person whom they haven’t seen in years. Or a place that they haven’t visited in years: Oriel, our late and much-missed golden retriever once ran joyfully to the site of a small pond that had been dry for about a decade. The former pond was a short walk from her former home in Montana, and she hadn’t been there for at least 3 years. She became very excited as we approached the road to the house, too. And of course all of our dogs know the way to fun places and begin to show excitement ridiculously early in any journey in the general direction of the dog beach, Cali’s sister Dora’s house, the park where we play ball …

It’s also clear that dogs use these memories to anticipate, with pleasure or dread, future experiences. Dogs generalize and can become fearful of people or situations that remind them of unpleasant experiences in the past. A dog who fears going to the vet, for example, can recognize a vet’s office, any vet’s office, from several blocks away. Happy experiences have the same effect. Thus a dog who loves to run and play will decide that any open green space you happen to drive past would be a really fun place to stop and play ball. He might helpfully point out all the nice play opportunities say, between Northern California and Missoula, Montana, as you are driving. Believe me, there are hundreds of open green spaces in the American Northwest.

But do they miss us? Do they miss places?

This question becomes more relevant each day, as our departure from Montana gets closer and closer. Does Cali miss her play park and friends in Petaluma? More to the point: Will she miss her private play yard in Montana? Will she ever forgive me for taking her away from this idyllic place where she is so happy?

It’s also a question that many dog owners ponder if / when they leave their dogs with a dog sitter or boarding kennel when they travel. Does the dog pine for them? Wonder where they are? Or, as dogs do so well, does the dog simply live in the present moment, enjoying the attention of the dog sitter?

I’ve heard enough stories about how dogs behave after the death of a loved human or canine playmate or family member to believe that dogs grieve. Isn’t that an indication that dogs miss people or dogs who aren’t present?

I don’t have a definitive answer to any of these questions. I suspect that some individual dogs form closer ties to people, dogs, places, and other beings or objects and do, indeed, miss them. Other dogs appear to be — and may truly be — happy in the present moment, loving the ones they’re with.

So the answer might be similar to my answer to so many questions about dogs: It depends. Dogs are individuals. Your individual dog might miss you very much when you are gone. Or she might happily hang out with whomever is nearby. Cali might miss Montana. But Cali’s such a sunny optimist that I am betting she’ll be happy to be back in Petaluma and enjoy picking up our old routine and reconnecting with her playmates there.

At least, I hope that’s the case!