Dogs always seem so happy when their owners return home: have you ever wondered why happy behaviour, such as tail wagging is present no matter what the duration of your absence? As Dr Maria Grazia Calore, veterinary surgeon and expert in pet behaviour explains this is because of the nature of man’s best friend.
The dog: social animal par excellence
The dog is a social animal: it needs to live in group and doesn’t tolerate loneliness well. Furthermore, it is predisposed to communicate by being able to interpret the emotions and language of man, and adapting its behaviour accordingly.
For a balanced dog, separation from the group is mildly stressful, but, at the same time, it is well tolerated if it’s accompanied by a reassuring routine. Our pet gets used to seeing us go out and return at certain times. Its confidence is cemented by a sort of “cognitive map“, a timetable built through secondary signals, such as the arrival of the postman, the sound of bells, the noise of people coming back for lunch etc. Even the sound of our car or scooter is able to alert them to our return ensuring a happy dog is always ready to greet us.
Being reunited with its owner
For a dog, its reunion with one or more members of the pack is a time of joy because, by its very nature, it likes to relate and share space. Even our actions – greetings, hugs and whispered words – help make our dogs happy. In fact, our social reinforcement is just as important as that given by food and can permanently set their behaviour.
The onset of this attitude is found in puppies that are pleased to see their mother, who for them is an important point of reference and a source of food and protection. When we, as owners, replace this maternal figure, we reinforce this attitude.
Usually, a dog tolerates short periods of solitude very well: it uses these quite moments to relax and sleep. However, if these timeframes are extended beyond the norm or if it experiences any unpleasant situations while we are out, it may suffer ‘separation anxiety’.
It is a common belief that dogs do not have a fixed idea of the passage of time and that they can’t comprehend if we’ve been away an hour or a day. In fact, as we have discussed above, they have references from the environment that allow them to know more or less how much time has passed since our exit. The repetitiveness of our actions also helps them to get used to the detachment and ensures they are happy to greet us on our return, giving us absolute joy to see them every day.