Does my dog miss me?

Does my dog miss me?

We don’t fully understand how our absences—whether they last 2 hours or 3 weeks—truly affect our dogs. Can a better comprehension of the canine brain help?

August 17, 2020

It’s fair to say that the 2020 summer vacation season has been like no other. Nevertheless, for many dog owners “getting away from it all” is accompanied by the bittersweet feeling of leaving your dog with friends, family or in boarding. We naturally tend to project our feelings onto our companion animals, with whom we share the ups and downs of our lives, but do our pets miss us in the same way we miss them?

Numerous studies—with varied results—have examined how dogs experience time and separation. Research indicates that dogs may well experience a concept of time but it seems unclear if they are able to distinguish between, say, 5 minutes, 1 hour and 3 days.

What goes on inside our dog’s brain?
Gregory Berns, MD, PhD is the Distinguished Professor of Neuroeconomics and Director of the Center for Neuropolicy and Facility for Education & Research in Neuroscience at Emory University in Atlanta. His research seeks to understand human and canine motivation and decision-making using brain imaging technologies. 

Dr Berns founded the Dog Project in 2012 to see how imaging could help us elucidate how a dog’s brain works. By training over 80 dogs to voluntarily sit for MRI scans, he and his team have made several critical discoveries, including how brain morphology can predict suitability for service work, canine preference for praise over food, and the existence of a specific region in the dog’s brain that processes face recognition. You can read about his work in dog neuroscience in his best-selling books What It’s Like to be a Dog and How Dogs Love Us

So, how does your dog miss you when you’re gone? 
“Obviously, they want to communicate with us because they live with us. They are very social animals; in my view, their greatest trick is how social they are – that is what makes them a dog and not a wolf.”

-- Dr Gregory Berns on The Guardian.

Dr Berns’s work has helped make it clear that dogs have feelings like ours and that they have a highly-developed social intelligence with associated empathy. What is my dog thinking? Do they miss me in the same way I miss them? Stay tuned as ongoing studies attempt to answer these seemingly simple questions.

Find out more about the Dog Project and how it’s helping us reconsider our understanding of animal intelligence and rights.

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