Froma Harrop: Will my dog really miss me?
Summary: Perhaps you work at some hipster enterprise, where the dogs come along, sit where they please and receive stock options at the end of the year. If not —- if you have to leave the dog home alone for a few hours — you'll be forgiven, at least by your dog.
Someday, you may be going back to your office, factory, store or wherever you worked. Know this: Your dog will be OK. He or she will be OK even if you've just spent six months tied wrists to paws, in locked-down intimacy.
Dogs are social animals, it's true, but they do adjust to changes in routine. Humans who love their animals but also have jobs need not put too much stock in dog writers who obsess over any discomfort to which a canine may be exposed. The owners may look askance at guilt-invoking accounts of how dogs suddenly left on their own for hours will suffer.
Of course, there's no harm in reading instructions on how humans can prepare dogs for their absence. The steps basically boil down to reassuring your mutt that your going to work does not equal abandonment.
An item in Bloomberg News — Time to Tell America's Dogs This Arrangement Won't Last Forever" — advises slow separation by, say, putting the dog in a crate in the kitchen for a while. "Extend the alone time from one hour to three to four hours," a dog expert advises. Timers ready?
Early in lockdown, some dog writers discussed the opposite problem: overstimulation by humans. "All dogs should have a safe spot in the house to enjoy when they need some quiet time," wrote Alex Benjamin, a psychologist at the University of York.
That explains a lot. I occasionally dog sit for Rusty, who loves-loves me, often shadowing my moves through the house. Every now and then, though, Rusty jumps off my lap and lopes into a closet, where he naps in a dark corner.
At first, I asked, "How did I offend thee?" But an hour later, Rusty is again at my feet piercing my soul with his cunning dog eyes. And then, the bulb in my head lights up. Perhaps, just perhaps, Rusty wanted to get away from me for a while. Or away from anybody.
Adult dogs need 12 to 16 hours of sleep a day, Benjamin explained, "so having us around constantly during lockdown means many dogs aren't getting the rest they need." Aha.
Dogs may object to seeing their humans pick up keys and not the leash. But once the people exit, dogs seem to quickly figure out that much hasn't changed in their world. They still have the familiar couch, and perhaps your sweatshirt, to curl up on. It's not like you've dropped them in the middle of a frozen prairie where wolves do bloody battle over an elk carcass.
In any case, the dog probably won't hold a grudge. That's because dogs have short-term memory spans, only about two minutes, according to a study by Johan Lind, an ethologist at Stockholm University. While they may not remember where you parked the car, dogs, he says, do have specialized memory systems designed to recall "biologically relevant information," such as where to find food.
That may explain why Rusty, even if I haven't seen him for weeks, still races me to the refrigerator. And it brings up a related and somewhat painful thought: Could the hamburger meat I put before him be why he loves-loves me? I've noticed that he happily eats dry kibble at his primary residence, but at my place, he ignores the bowl and holds out for beef. My biologically relevant memory should be so good.
Perhaps you work at some hipster enterprise, where the dogs come along, sit where they please and receive stock options at the end of the year. If not —- if you have to leave the dog home alone for a few hours — you'll be forgiven, at least by your dog.
Froma Harrop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FromaHarrop.