We’re pretty bummed every time we leave a pet-sit. I’ve even been known to blubber like a baby saying adios to our fleeting, fuzzy-faced friends. Right now we’re caring for a gorgeous golden doodle, one of the most friendly, laid-back, lovable, smart dogs we’ve ever cared for, named Sierra (watch out Kahlua, you’ve got some tough competition for grooviest golden ever!).
In addition to being called Dudes, Groodles and Golden Poos, they’re also referred to as “designer dogs” because they were developed in the mid-90s as guide dogs for the blind with allergies. A cross between a golden retriever and a standard poodle, it’s the poodle part that’s supposed to make these pooches hypoallergenic. But some experts maintain there’s no such thing as a completely hypoallergenic dog; that it’s a certain protein in the dog’s skin that causes the allergy. And, well, all dogs have skin.
But there are certainly some breeds that shed less and have less dander. Take the Obamas’ first choice for First Dog, a Portu-guese water dog. First daughter Malia is allergic and the water dog is low-shedding. Apparently, the family also considered getting a labradoodle (close cousin of the golden doodle), but, alas, none suitable could be found so Bo was a go.
After three weeks with Sierra, we can see why these breeds are also used as therapy dogs. She’s so patient and tolerant, unflappable and serene. She doesn’t bark, but makes a strange growl sound — when she’s excited. She runs up to every stranger on the street as if they’re her long-lost friend (although, truth be told, she’s learned some humans carry yummy things in their pockets).
If she’d inherited more of the retriever in her she’d make a good bird dog. Judging by her look of “huh?” when you throw her a ball, she’s definitely got more poodle in her. That’s not to say she’s untrained; she’s one of the most obedient dogs we’ve ever sat. In fact, both retrievers and poodles are listed as the top 5 most trainable dogs by the American Kennel Club, so if you’ve put two and two together, you get double the duty. (We just have to work on her willful ways of insisting on sniffing every square inch of ground on our walks — a level of attention that would bore a bloodhound.) Sierra never steps through a doorway without being invited; she won’t eat unless given the OK; she stands patiently as her feet are wiped before setting foot in the house; she respects an invisible line drawn at the kitchen that says do not enter; and, halleluja! she’s the first dog we’ve ever sat that doesn’t beg or lurk at the table. We will miss her!
But will she miss us? Maybe after we’ve been gone an hour; after that, we’re history in her mind. Researchers at a Swedish university studied how animals process the passage of time when they’re left alone and, it turns out, it seems the longer they’re left, the cooler they are with it. The study found that after two hours, dogs greeted their owners with more intensity than after just 30 minutes of being left alone. But there was no difference in the dogs’ reaction between two and four hours, which suggests that dogs can tell the difference between 30 minutes and two hours, but beyond that, not so much.
But they love us, right? Hogwash, claims author Jon Katz, who’s written on the bond between humans and canines (although you have to be suspicious of anyone claiming to be a dog expert with a name like Katz). “Dogs don’t ‘miss’ you when you go away,” Katz told the Chicago Tribune in 2009. “They might get anxious and confused, but don’t mistake that for loneliness or mourning. As soon as they find someone else to take care of them, they forget you pretty quickly. Dogs develop very strong, instinctive attachments to the people who feed and care for them. Over 15,000 years of domestication, they’ve learned to trick us into thinking that they love us.”
Not only do our dogs not love us, this idea of “unconditional love” is malarkey too, says Katz. According to him, they’re master manipulators. “Their attachment is, in fact, extremely conditional,” he says. “They’ll respond to anyone who gives them food and attention. I have a wonderful Labrador retriever who’s very happy here. But if you had hamburger meat on you, she’d gladly go to Chicago with you and never look back.” That may be true of Katz’s dog, but we’re going to stick with the delusion that Sierra — and all the pets we’ve sat — will miss us. If only for an hour.