Do Your Dogs Sense When You’re Leaving On a Trip?

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They already know. Even before the carry-on suitcase comes out of the closet, they know.

I’m leaving town for a few days.

Is it the extra laundry? The new sneakers set by the door? The way I’m preparing and setting out my senior dog’s medication, in a foolproof organizational fashion for my husband, who is staying behind?

It’s likely all these things – certainly the cumulative effect of all of these things. The more things I do to prepare to leave town on a business trip (I’m going to Kansas City for Petfood Forum), the more depressed and glum-looking my dogs get – especially on these work-related trips where I leave my husband behind to take care of the dogs.

When the two of us take a trip together, often one of the first steps I take in preparation for leaving is to deliver my two dogs to their respective favorite caregivers. Senior Otto usually goes to my sister’s house, where he gets to play 70-pound Gulliver in the land of Lilliputians (my sister has three small dogs). Six-year-old Woody is the same size as Otto, but his playful demeanor and exuberant body language makes him a better fit with my friend Leonora, who owns Woody’s best puppyhood friend, 5-pound Samson. They are mismatched in size, but perfectly matched in energy and interests.

Both of my dogs begin looking joyful when we approach their respective caregivers’ homes. They leap out of the car with joy, and barge into their temporary homes as if they’ve just returned from their own too-long vacations.

But this is a work trip; they are staying behind with my husband. All they have to look forward to is mealtime. My husband’s motto? “Food is love.” Even though he never feeds the dogs when I’m home, he enjoys preparing lavish meals for them when I’m gone. The last time I left town without him, I came home to a refrigerator that contained none of the eggs, lunch meat, or bacon bits (which I enjoy sprinkled on my salads) that were there when I left three days prior. He had mixed all of those ingredients into their food while I was gone!

But these meals are clearly not on their minds (yet) as I pack my bags.  It seems as if they are focused solely on conveying how much they’d like to come with me (as evidenced by their following me from room to room, or parking themselves by the door and following me to the car with every piece of luggage) or demonstrating how miserable they are going to be while I’m gone (demonstrated with glum, sad-sack expressions and deep sighs every few minutes).

Do your dogs care about your vacation preparations or react to the sight of your briefcase being packed for a trip?

23 COMMENTS

  1. Mine recognize the suitcase. I guess because i go to work every day and „leave them behind“ with my husband , it‘s not until the suitcase comes out that the sad faces appear…especially one of my older dogs, Daisy gets depressed?

  2. One dog would fake a limp on a walk before I left. Called the vet and she asked if anything ‘different’ was happening (suitcase by the door) and to watch him carefully. The limp came and went and he even used different feet!

    Another dog peed in my open suitcase. I learned to pack day of leaving and not the night before.

  3. My dog knows the difference in the clothes I wear. I’m home most of the time and wear pants. If I put on a skirt, she knows I’m going to work. If I put on shorts, she knows we may be going somewhere together which means a ride in the car and she will follow me everywhere.

    She gets anxious when I get out a suitcase, but I think that’s because she’s a rescue and she was left behind somewhere. Actually she was dumped down my road and we really haven’t been apart in the last few years since I’ve had her. Usually my husband is home if I go to work. When we visit relatives she goes with us and has her own suitcase full of food, treats, and toys.

  4. My previous dogs all knew when I was leaving because I would stop in the powder room on the first floor and put on the minimal make-up I wore to work. Those girls are now gone, sigh. I retired during the pandemic and adopted a smallish and timid creature who came all the way from Texas to New England. Because I’m home now, he is glued to my leg. He begins whining when I change from my yoga pants into regular pants because he knows I will be leaving for shopping or errands. Some friends are planning a weekend get-together out of town and I have warned them that I have to bring the dog. Unlike my hardy and jovial girls, I think he is too fragile (in spirit) to kennel. He has come a long way in the months he has been with me, but I think he will always be a bit vulnerable.

  5. I am a Petsitter and stay with dogs while their owners are away. They certainly know when the owners are going away – but are quite satisfied to be left with me. It probably helps that I have a number of regular clients which means the dogs know me. I’m also inclined to spoil them…
    But, while they may enjoy my company, they are usually overjoyed when the real owners return!

  6. Oh my Harley knows!! He looks me up and down and flows me with that doom and gloom look. It kills me! But he mainly focuses on my feet! When I put on my sneakers he knows its on. It amazes me just how much attention to detail he is. When I come back home and take off my shoes he get really excited and nibbles at my shoes like its their fault. Lol

  7. My dogs can tell by the shoes I am wearing. They can tell the difference between work, shopping and walking shoes. As for work I tell them the night before that “Mommy has to go to work tomorrow”. They have learned to accept the work situation but seem to be depressed when I have to run errands on the weekend.

  8. When I adopted Diana pawPrints my traveling days were over. I have no one to leave her with now that my parents are both turning 92 next month. My sister’s dog does NOT get along with Diana and I shudder to think how she would be treated on Sandy’s home turf if Sandy acts that way at my parent’s house. Now that I have Freyja, there is not only no traveling, but I don’t even leave the house for long period of time. Neither dog has witnessed the packing of the suitcases. Bad enough I head to the back gate and then don’t allow them to go in and me put their harnesses on before exiting the alley gate. I’ve watched them on the security cam and they still patrol the yard and do whatever it is they do all day. It’s not like they mope and bark and are devastated until I return. They just want to be with me. They get over it but a long trip is out of the question. I would have to put them in an overnight boarding doggy daycare situation and while Diana would probably adjust Freyja would probably freak. She was returned to the shelter twice before I adopted her and would probably lose all of the progress I have made with her. So for as long as she is alive, there will be no traveling for me. And she will likely outlive Diana.

  9. Such funny, heartwarming stories! I have two dogs. The smaller one will start shaking and panting really fast. Then right before I leave he crawls under some blankets or pulls a blanket down and goes under the bed. It stresses me out every morning to leave for work that I get up several hours before I have to just to spend extra time with him and to “prepare” for the drama. My cat knows too!

  10. Absolutely! My 14 -year old rescue {Trudy} goes to the bedroom and sticks her head under the bed so she can be sad. Her entire body won’t fit under there, so the head has to suffice!

  11. Floyd gets absolutely hysterical when he knows I’m leaving the house. He barks, howls, climbs all over me and has, on occasion, even bitten me! Apparently as soon as my car is out of his sight, he settles down to await my return (I always tell him that “I’ll be back, I always come back!) and is calm and quiet when I come home. The rest of time he is just the perfect companion. I’ve had him since he was six weeks old and I’m now retired, and only go out two or three times a month. He’s now almost four years old. He is a Collie/Shepherd blend. He gets plenty of exercise – we walk at least twice a day. I don’t know the answer or if there is even a cure. I don’t want to resort to chemical sedatives.

  12. 35 years ago I went on a 2 month cross-country trip in a van with my best friend from college. At the time I was living with my parents and a 4 year old Great Dane named Maximus. Max quickly became my dog and we did everything together since my family adopted him over a year before. Our bond was very deep.

    I am still haunted by the vivid memory of how Max acted when my friend arrived at my home with the van we were travelling in. The van was parked in our driveway and he watched me load my stuff up. Then he lay down in the driveway behind the van and refused to get up. This was a surprise because Max listened to me unfailingly. I could walk him off lead everywhere with no concern but this time he wouldn’t come inside with me when I asked. I had to get his leash and physically lead him back in the house. Though I was sad to leave him for a couple of months, I thought the scene was kind of funny and cute.

    I never saw Max again.

    After driving out to the west coast and back and just over a week before I would return home I was visiting my grandmother in Florida who was in the hospital at the time. She was on the phone with my mother who wanted to speak to me. Max had been diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer and had been euthanized earlier that day. Just typing this is bringing forth the tears.

    For all Max knew, I left him and I never came back. I wonder if my leaving had so depressed him that the cancer started to advance in my absence. To this day I wish there were a way I could have let him know that I loved him more than anything else in the world at that time. I’m so sorry Max. I still love you.

    • Scott, that’s the saddest story! Made tears run down my face at the conference I was attending. When the person I was sitting next to gave me a funny look, I passed my phone to her to read — and she started to cry, too!

    • I write this with tears flowing down my face. Please find comfort remembering the love you both shared and t h e good memories.

    • Hi Scott, I never got to say good-bye to our family dog, also named Max. I was in Europe when he was put down & have regretted not being able to be there when his last day came. I have had many rescue dogs in the years since, and I try to let them know how much they are loved each & every day that they are with me. I also tell them to look for Max when it is their time to cross the rainbow bridge. I want them to let him know he is a big reason why they got to spend their best years with me. I hope you know you will see Max again, and you can tell him again, how much you love him.

  13. My sweet Tag (border collie Cavalier cross) knows by the clothes I put on whether he is included and meekly trots off to his crate once he is certain the clothes are “wrong”?!
    Twice a year my son and I travel to Edmonton, for my son’s cancer treatment, and Tag is excited as soon as we start to pack as he knows he is definitely included on this particular road trip. He is as good as gold and doesn’t even object if he doesn’t get all the walks he usually gets. Usually 1 1/2 hrs. Each morning and another in the evening ! My Tag is the real joy in my life and I am forever grateful for him sharing this part of my journey. I am 82 years old and live in Vancouver BC.

  14. Hi Nancy

    I haven’t written in a while but still enjoy your column so much! I am in awe of the way you look out for needing fur babies! I also know how hard it must have been to put Luna back into that environment; I just wanted to hug you and dog nap Luna. I do hope there are some animal food banks close by. Let us know how we might help. We are in Illinois.

  15. With my two labs, it’s the eye contact, I think. They can read me like a book, and seem to know what my next step is before even I do. Thankfully I have a dear friend that is available to come stay with them in the event that I leave.
    Love my labbies.

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