Is My Pet Mad When I Come Home Late?

By Ashley Tyler
Grumpy little  dog in a colorful background
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Your boss had you work late again, and now you're rushing to get home to your pet whose been alone all day. But when you get home you see your usually well-behaved pup has rifled through the garbage or maybe it was your cat who decided to use the restroom somewhere other than her litter box. What gives?

Are they punishing you for staying out late? Can they really tell that they've been alone longer than usual?

Each pet is different and while there's no solid definitive answer, the situation may be more complex than simply them being mad that you were late for dinner.

The first question we need to ask is:

Can My Pet Tell Time?

dog holding an alarm clock in his paws
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Your dog is excited to see you no matter if you've been gone for 5 minutes or 5 days — but do they know how long you were gone?

A study from Sweden University done by Therese Rehn and Linda Keeling examined dogs' reactions to their owners after they were gone for specific amounts of time. What they found was that "after two hours, dogs greeted their owners with more intensity than after 30 minutes of being left alone. However, there was no difference between two and four hours." We humans can easily sense the passage of time because we see the color changing in the sky and know how to read a clock, but your pet is confined to the inside of your house with only their rumbling tummy to tell them what time it is.

John Katz, an author and expert on dog behavior and training did an interview on MSNBC's The Situation with Tuck Carlson encouraging pet owners not to feel guilty for leaving your pet at home alone since they're simpler creatures than we'd like to imagine. Despite what you might think of your brainy bud, Katz likens their intelligence to that of a child younger than 3-years-old and suggests that dogs simply don't know how long you've been out. Period. "Dogs are not thinking at all. They don't have words. They don't have narrative. They don't know the difference between being home for half an hour and three hours."

When it comes to cats, former veterinary hospital manager turned writer, Ingrid King, points out that, "cats do measure time, even though they probably don't think about time passing the way we do." So while they may not be able to sense exactly how much times has passed, your pet (dog or cat) is likely attuned to the schedule you've created for them and will take notice if someone's not there to, literally, deliver the goods at the right time.

Separation Anxiety

Persian cat
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Your pet acting out while you're gone may have absolutely nothing to do with them being mad at you. Certified canine behavior consultant, Mikkel Becker, believes it's all due to "a little case of separation anxiety."

There is one key difference in the intensity of separation anxiety betweens dogs and cats though. "Cats demonstrate separation anxiety primarily when their owners are away for a few days. Unlike dogs, they hardly ever show signs when their owners are gone a regular workday," explained Dr. Amy Marder of the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Becker adds that, "a dog will often read his owner's subtle cues, so if the owner is gone for a set amount of time each day, the dog will react with anxiety directly before his owner leaves, while he's gone and just before the dog expects his owner to return." This increasing anxiety can turn to stress, which can cause both dogs and cats to act out in ways that aren't so pleasant for pet owners.

One way to kick the separation anxiety to the curb — switch up your schedule! Your pet will stop expecting you to come home at the same exact time every day and won't be able to predict how long you'll be gone time.

Stop the Madness

yoga dog
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Chicago-based dog behaviorist and trainer Ami Moore said that in order to put an end to guilt-ridden, anxiety-filled time out of the house is all about how you leave the house.

"If you leave with happy energy, then you're giving them happy energy. If you leave them with negative energy like 'I'm worried,' 'I'm afraid,' 'I'm guilty,' then the dog will act the same way."'

So, put out those good vibes and keep your fingers crossed that your pet isn't taking his frustrations out on your new leather sandals.

Are you interested in learning more about what you're reading? Scroll through this article about what it means when dogs try to sneak out of the house. Then like us on Facebook and join our newsletter to learn more about your pet's behavior.