All pet owners have been through it. You are excited about a long-anticipated vacation, and have just pulled out your suitcases to start packing. But before the suitcase is unzipped, your dog has already begun the guilt trip. He lowers his head, slinks to the corner, and crashes down with a look of complete despair. And all of your excitement about the trip gets taken down a notch, or five. As she neared the end of a long battle with cancer, a wise friend told me, “Never miss a vacation because of your animals.” It can be difficult to enjoy it, knowing that a key part of your family is left behind. You wonder, what is he thinking? Does he know I am coming back? Is he worried that I left him for good? Will he be well cared for?
Things can run more smoothly if the owner plans well in advance.
- Once you have booked a trip, immediately consider care for your dog. Can he stay at home, with a pet sitter present? Or maybe stay with a friend? Boarding is also an option. Many facilities fill early, so it is important to reserve a space as soon as possible.
- Once you have decided on a plan, make sure your dog is acclimated to where he is staying. If he will be at a friend’s house, take him there a few times to visit. If he is boarding, visit the facility in advance to make sure you and your pet are comfortable with it.
- Create a list of important information for the caretaker, such as medicines, feeding times, exercise schedules, etc. Even personality quirks should be noted. I will never forget receiving a call on my honeymoon from my friend who was dog-sitting. “Your dog freaked out when she heard thunder and jumped in the shower,” Amilia said. “What do we do now?” The answer? “Well, I guess you are going to have to shower with Marley.” (This was not well-received…to say Amilia was not a dog person would be an understatement.) I should have told her in advance to give Marley a valium if storms were in the forecast. Those kind of details matter.
Experts give conflicting opinions on whether dogs actually comprehend your absence. According to psychology professor Stanley Coren, dogs have the emotional capacity of a two-to-three year-old child. They have the clearest memories when there is a strong emotional connection. If you are gone for a short or a long time, they will remember you. Smell is the trigger. Many veterinarians will insist that pets have no conception of time, and that they do not understand whether you have been gone for ten minutes or ten hours. However, dogs are creatures of habit. They know when you typically wake up, when you come home from work, and especially when they would eat. If your absence goes on for an extended amount of time, they will react more strongly when you return. While separation may cause stress to both pets and their owners, it is usually worth the disruption. Everyone needs a break and really, who doesn’t love the kisses when you and your dog finally reunite?