Have you ever thought about what happened to a dog after a human or another dog has died?
If you're a dog owner, you may be wondering if dogs mourn. Sadly, we can't just walk right up to our dogs and ask them, but we can learn to identify behaviors if a tragedy has occurred in their lives.
While not every dog is the same, there has been some scientific evidence to show that dogs can be affected by the death of their owner or another animal. Most dogs will not know about death, but they will be able to sense their favorite human or furry friend is no longer there anymore.
Dogs do this by showing some common signs.
While you’re cooking, suddenly, your dog looks at you. You want to give them a little treat but wonder if they can eat the food you are holding in your hand.
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Do dogs grieve? Here are signs to look out for:
- Often a reduced or lack of appetite.
- Become socially withdrawn, not wanting to play or socialize with other humans or animals around them.
- They may become incredibly lazy and sleep more than usual.
- Your dog might call out by barking or whining about seeking out the other dog or human who has passed away.
- When around other humans, they may develop a clingy attachment onto them and not want to leave.
- Your dog may become distraught and become aggressive or begin self-destructive behaviors.
What science is there behind dogs grieving?
Now you skeptics out there might be reading this post and thinking, what science is there behind this?
Well, there has been quite a bit of research conducted. But, there's one mentioned by VCAhospitals which mentions a famous study conducted in 1996 by the American Society for prevention of cruelty of animals. The study's outcomes suggested that 66% of the dogs displayed at least four typical grieving signs.
Dog grieving another dog's death, how long is the process?
Naturally, your dog will eventually heal over time. There is no set period of recovery for a dog's grief, each period of grief for a dog will vary on their own accord.
A study conducted by Walker et al., where they asked opinions of dog owners through a questionnaire in times of death, gives us interesting insights.
The results indicated dogs reduced the amount of food they consumed and the the frequency of food they ate when a death has occurred. Similarly, they spent more time sleeping, but most dogs displayed different signs of grieving and took different amounts of time to return to normal behavior, according to the owner's interpretations.
How do you help a dog with grief?
If you and your furry friend are experiencing a loss, there are a few ways to deal with grief. During this period, it's important to do the following:
- Spend more time with your dog– Arguably, if your dog has lost another dog, they may be lacking playtime or company. In this situation, you should pay more attention to them, cuddle them more and play with them.
- Keep a routine- As a dog owner, you must maintain a good routine for your dog. Ideally, keep them doing the same activities they were doing previously. Don't try to create a new routine, as dogs don't like unpredictability, and their behavior could become unproductive as a result.
- Give them more treats- If your dog is doing any particular good behavior, you should reward them with their favorite treat. Similarly, if they do anything normal, acknowledge their happiness with a treat. Show them life isn't all that bad.
- Wait for a while until you get a new dog- It isn't the best idea to get a new dog or seek a replacement if you've recently lost one. As mentioned above, dogs do not adapt to change well, and adding a new dog so soon may be a bit stressful.
- Get medicine as a last resort– For all dogs and us, grieving is a natural process we have to experience. However, sometimes, it can be a bit harder on dogs or take a bit longer than expected. If this is the case, you can purchase diffusers to help with their anxiety, and some vets may prescribe medicine to help with their grief.
- Patience– Just like us, humans, time is a healer. So have patience and sympathy; your dog will eventually recover.
Dogs are receptive to humans grieving
Dogs are highly intelligent animals, and when we've lost someone in our lives a lot of the time, they can detect when we're grieving too. After all, our dogs can interpret our mood and sometimes project that mood also. So if our dogs see us upset or miserable, it's most likely the case they will be sad too.
This is because dogs are very close to their owners; they have an emotional attachment. Therefore if you have lost a family member or dog, be careful how you display your emotions around the dog. You never know; you may be doubling up on your dog's stress and causing them more trauma.
If you can't avoid showing your emotions around your dog, make sure you treat them with extra attention during this difficult period.
Overall, dogs respond to a missing person or dog in the family. They may not understand the concept of death, but they will show typical signs of loss. For instance, they may have reduced appetite, become more lethargic, self-destructive, and socially withdrawn.
Be careful if you're grieving, too, as dogs can detect our emotions and feel them too. During a grieving period, make sure you give your dog extra love and rewards. Most importantly, establish the same routine and don't let it face any uncertainty. Time is a healer.
Alex Wrigley is a professional writer and blogger who loves travel, technology and dogs. She is originally from the UK but currently lives in Nepal with her three dogs: two pugs and a golden retriever.