It is 8 am and you are dropping your dog off at doggie daycare for the day. You are feeling very guilty because you know you’ll be working late and won’t be back to pick up the dog for 12 hours.
In the car on the way to daycare, you tell your dog how sorry you are and assure him that he will have a great time. Once you get there, you give him a hug and tell him goodbye as you hand him to the daycare staff. He looks back at you longingly and tries to pull himself back to you. You say goodbye a few more times and reluctantly leave.
Does this sound familiar? Most people go through this tearful routine with their dog every day, whether they are leaving their dog at home or taking her to daycare. At the end of the day when they get home from work, there is a joyful reunion between dog and human.
Goodbyes and Reunions Cause Anxiety for Dog
In reality, these tearful goodbyes and happy reunions are not helpful to dogs, and actually make dogs feel anxious and worried. In human social interactions, it is quite rude to leave without saying goodbye or enter without saying hello, and humans quite naturally follow these social conventions with their dogs. However, in canine social interactions, dramatic arrivals and departures indicate that something is wrong.
When you say goodbye to your dog, what your dog understands is “This is a serious situation. I need to say goodbye in case I don’t come back.” Similarly, when you have an ecstatic greeting ritual upon arrival, you are telling your dog “Thank goodness I made it home. I was really worried that I would never see you again.”
The more emotional you are during arrivals and departures, the more worried your dog will become. The best thing to do when leaving your dog is to simply walk out the door without speaking or making eye contact. When you return home, try to ignore your dog for two minutes and wait until she calms down before greeting her calmly.
Use a Low-Key Approach
This may make you feel uncomfortable and rude, but it is actually making your dog feel much more relaxed. Low-key arrivals and departures tell your dog “This is no big deal. I’ll be back so soon that there is really no point in saying goodbye.”
It is natural to feel guilty about leaving your dog for the day, but try to remember that your job is to keep your dog calm and relaxed. Dogs don’t understand our language, but they seem to equate a lot of chatter and emotion with a potentially distressing situation. The less you say to your dog during arrivals and departures, the better.