Dogs, by their very nature, are sociable animals. If we consider their descent from wolves, you are fundamentally pack animals, this sociable aspect of their nature makes complete sense. So if you limit their contact with whoever they have close bonds with, they are bound to feel lonely.
I think they do, and here’s why
Now, don’t get me wrong. Just like all dog owners, I have left our dog for limited periods of time. It’s a simple fact of our lives, that sometimes this is necessary. Depending on what stage of life your dog is at, they may find it relatively easy to deal with being left. They will still be super glad to see you when you return, but very young dogs, or animals that suffer with separation anxiety are likely to feel very lonely during times of being left. Some of them may view it as a feeling of solitary confinement, and if they are inside your house or a cage, it may feel a bit like a prison for them. But mainly, they just plain miss you when you’re not there!
Can dogs judge time?
I’ve often asked myself whether dogs have a concept of time. For example, would they view a few hours differently to most of the day, with feelings of loneliness being felt more keenly as time goes on? Unfortunately I don’t know the exact answer to this. I also don’t know if there is a scientific study which can tell us this.
However, there are some things I can tell you, using our own dog as an example in some cases. How do we explain why some dogs show signs of sadness when we get our suitcases out? It would indicate they can differentiate between you leaving the house with just your hand bag, and leaving with a larger bag that is filled up with changes of clothes. I would say this is definitely the case. Why?
Well, we could get out a suitcase, and before we even put anything in it, our dog would sit at the top of the stairs with his nose on his paws and a really sad expression on his face. He didn’t do this is I went out with just my handbag! Some German Shepherd owners will argue that this breed is particularly intelligent, but I know of other dog owners who have seen similar behavior in their dogs. I believe all dogs have a very high level of intelligence – it’s one of the reasons we love them so much and they make such great pets and companions.
Dogs definitely have empathy
Their behaviors often reflect our own, and we can empathize with each other. How else would you explain their ability to understand our own moods. I would hazard a guess that dogs, because they don’t speak, are even more able to tune in to human behavior and sometimes human physiology too. We don’t need to tell them we are sad or sick, they just seem to know. And through a simple gesture, dogs can often let us know they know something about us. I think this is amazingly clever, and sometimes they are quicker to show these gestures of understanding and kindness than our human friends are.
So, with all this in mind, I feel very strongly that dogs do feel lonely at times. If we are not there, or if there are other pets in the household, who we take to the vet or out with us, of course they will miss the company. This is also backed up by how excited our dogs are to see us return, whether it’s from a short time away, or collecting them from someone else’s care if we are away on holiday. They don’t forget us, even if we are away for a long time. This is because they love us!
Evidence that dogs miss humans they have bonds with
Ask yourself if you miss your children if they are away for a sleepover. For some of us, this can be a nice break – some “me time” or quality time to spend with your husband or partner, but we still miss our children just a little bit.
There are plenty of videos on the internet showing how excited dogs are to see their serving owners returning from a tour of duty. There are obvious displays of affection between dog and owner, and it’s apparent that both parties have missed each other. I believe the feelings of missing you are very similar to feeling lonely without you, especially as time passes.
How might a dog feel when left on its own?
So, to answer my original posturing, I do think dogs have an awareness of time passing. Whilst they aren’t clock-watching, the longer we leave them for, the more they miss us, and therefore if they are on their own, the lonelier they feel.
Let’s take a look how it might go inside your dog’s head. Once you leave the house and they are on their own:
- Awww, you’re going away again. Bother! What will I do?
- Let’s sniff around the food bowl and see if there are any crumbs left over from breakfast. Nope, nothing there. Looks like I’ve already “hoovered” up any leftovers and been very thorough.
- What about the rest of the kitchen? If I push between these chairs, they’ll move a bit and I can get under the table. I’ve found other good stuff under there, so I’ll take a look.
- No, nothing there today wither. But look! There’s my squeaky bone – yippee! If I can just stretch a bit further I can reach it. C’mon, c’mon…..yes, got it!
- “Squeak….squeak,squeak…….squeak”. I know, I’ll throw it down the stairs and then chase it and pounce on it. “Squuuueak”.
- Thirsty now – I’ll have a drink.
- Are they coming back now? Not really supposed to be on here, but if I jump on this chair I can see out the window. No, no-one coming up the path.
- I’ll just sit here for a while. It’s actually quite comfy. Think I’ll sit here for a while. ZZz…..
- What was that noise? Oh, it’s just the neighbor’s cat. Still no sign of them. Better get off the chair now.
- What can I do now? Wish they would come home. I miss having them around. I like playing with them.
- That sounds like a car door. Yes, it’s our car door. I think they’re coming back, so I’m wagging my tail. I can hear the key in the lock. Quick…need to get to the door. My tail is wagging so hard now, I’m so excited…it might wag right off!
- The door is opening. Yay….”woof”! I’m so happy to see you. I missed you, so I’m going to run around and around you, with lots of bounciness.
OK, that’s all just made up, but I think it’s probably not far off how it all goes. What do you think? Do you think your dog would get lonely after a while without you? I sure do.
What can we do to make them feel less lonely?
Like I said earlier, sometimes we have to go out. So what can we do to help a dog not feel too lonely (they will always feel a little bit, because we are their family)? I think common sense tells us a few things
Don’t leave our dogs for longer than is necessary. And if we do have to go away for longer than usual, maybe get a friend or someone else your dog knows to pop in and say hi, let them out for the toielt and play with them a bit. It’s not you, and they know that, but it’s a bit of other company meantime and helps them feel a little less lonely without you.
If you regularly have to leave your dog for long times, what about getting another dog to keep them company? I would say here though, that all dogs react differently and some may get jealous of a new introduction. If you know when you are getting a dog that you will be away for longer periods of time, why not get two dogs at the same time. Two puppies from the same litter could be a good idea. Twice the toilet training and double the puppy training, but they may help each other learn and they will always have the company of their sibling.
If this isn’t practical, even another animal in the house can help a dog feel less lonely in times of absence. A bird, for example. A goldfish is probably not enough – but an animal that moves and makes sounds can actually give quite a bit of comfort. It’s just another living being, that is there.
Many owners leave the radio or television on to help comfort their dogs when they are away. The sound of voices can help, but I think they know the difference and while they might appreciate the comfort for a time, they will still feel lonely without your presence after a while.
A lonely part in the heart
Well, you may think this is all a load of speculation and drivel! I agree with the speculation part, but ask yourself if you would be lonely without your dog. Even if we have human company, there is still a “lonely part” in our hearts for our dogs when we are away from them. So I guess the question to ask ourselves is, do they have the same “lonely part” in their heart for us? I definitely think so.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my speculation, and you may have some of your own thoughts and feelings to add in. Like I said at the beginning, there’s no scientific study I’m quoting here, so it would be great to hear from other dog owners about how they view this topic. If you would like to add anything, please feel free to do so below.