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If you ask any dog person, do dogs show grief? They will firmly answer yes!
Dog owners are witness to their dog’s emotions every day. We are greeted with a happy excited tail-wagging dog every time we come home, and we can sense when our dog is anxious or feeling sad, so naturally, we can assume dogs show grief.
Obviously, dogs can’t tell us in words how they are feeling or what they are thinking, instead, they show their emotions through behaviour and physical symptoms.
Perceptive dog owners can tell how their dog is feeling by interpreting their dog’s behaviour. We know dogs are capable of feeling happy, scared, anxious, sad, angry, and even possessive.
But, what about grief?
While there isn’t any scientific data that proves dogs are capable of grieving, there are plenty of stories about dogs appearing to grieve over the loss of human and animal companions.
Evidence suggests a dog’s behaviour changes when someone close to them passes away.
In this article, we’ll look at the common signs of grief in dogs, and how you can help your dog cope with grief, plus how long you can expect your dog to grieve.
How Do Dogs Show Grief?
Signs that your dog is grieving can be very similar to the way a human grieves. Some dogs become depressed, lose interest in activities, and lose their appetite. Just like humans, no two dogs are alike and therefore deal with grief in their own way and at their own pace.
Some dogs will display changes in behaviour, and some dogs might not show any signs of emotional suffering at all.
You may notice signs of grief in your dog immediately, or symptoms may show up gradually over time.
Signs Of Grief In Dogs:
- Loss of appetite, no interest in eating or drinking.
- No interest in activities they used to enjoy, such as walking or playing.
- Sleeping more than usual, becoming lethargic.
- Becoming socially withdrawn.
- Searching for their friend they have lost, or waiting for their human companion to return.
- Becoming clingy and wanting more attention.
- Displaying unwanted behaviours, such as barking excessively or chewing and destroying things.
- Having accidents in the house.
Do Dogs Really Understand Death?
Dogs don’t actually understand the concept of death as we do. We know that when a loved one dies they are gone and we will never see them, touch them or be able to speak to them again.
Dogs, on the other hand, don’t understand that death is permanent, which is why they will faithfully wait for their owner to walk through the door again, or continue looking for their friend who is no longer with them.
Dogs understand that their owner or friend is missing, and will suffer the loss by displaying many of the signs that we see as grief as mentioned above.
There are many skeptics who suggest that dogs are incapable of feeling grief the way humans do and that their changes in behaviour are due to their daily routines being altered, which causes them to become upset and stressed.
Some even say that a dog’s behaviour mimics that of a human’s when experiencing grief. If you recently suffered a loss, and are going through grief, your dog will pick up on your emotions and will be feeling the same way.
Owners Know Best, Studies Show Dogs Really Do Grieve
If you have ever experienced losing a dog while owning another dog, you know first hand how the surviving dog responds to the loss of his companion, most likely becoming depressed and showing little interest in anything.
Dogs are loyal and loving to their owners and they form close bonds to other pets in the family. When an owner or pet dies, dogs definitely respond in a behavioural or emotional way.
This short video shows 6 animals who grieved the loss of their humans.
Whether you call it grief or not, there are many animal behaviourists who believe that dogs and other animals really do mourn.
Barbara J. King, emerita professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia is the author of “How Animals Grieve”. Her book argues that animals think and feel in similar ways to humans.
She defines grief in animals as requiring a significant change in normal behaviour routine and showing visible emotional distress through body language, vocalizations, social withdrawal, and or failure to eat or sleep.
The Companion Animal Mourning Project, a study conducted by the ASPCA in 1996 found that 66 percent of dogs displayed four or more behavioural changes after the passing of an animal companion. These changes which included eating less and changes in sleep patterns are similar to behaviours in grieving humans.
As dog owners, we pick up on our dog’s emotions and have no doubt in our minds that dogs grieve, however, the subject of grieving in dogs is still skeptical to scientists.
How Do You Help Your Dog Cope With Grief?
Losing an owner or a canine companion can be very difficult for your dog, here are things you can do to help your dog cope with the loss:
Allow Your Dog Time To Grieve
Grief affects us differently as well as our dogs. Not every dog will grieve the same way or for the same amount of time. It is important to allow your dog time to grieve and be patient through the process.
Be There For Your Dog
Give your dog emotional support and just spend quality time together. Chances are you are grieving the same loss as your dog, and just like dogs provide us with comfort and love, we can do the same for them.
Offer Up Some Distractions
Do the things your dog loves to do, perhaps go to his favourite park, play his favourite game, take a car ride, or do something fun together to keep his mind occupied. You could also teach him some new tricks, or use puzzle toys to keep his mind stimulated.
Stick To Your Dog’s Regular Routine
Whether your dog lost his human best friend or his animal companion, his normal daily routine has been altered, and any change in routine causes stress to dogs. It is important to maintain your dog’s regular routine as much as possible to ease the stress and upset. Feed and walk your dog at the same time as usual.
Reward Your Dog’s Normal Behaviour
It is our natural instinct to want to comfort our dog and provide more love and attention to them when they are sad. There is nothing wrong with doing so, however, your dog might continue this sad behaviour well beyond their grieving period just to get rewarded.
Consult Your Vet
Remember that each dog will be affected by grief differently, some may bounce back within a few weeks, some may take months, and some really struggle with it.
It is important to consult your vet as soon as you notice any signs that your dog’s physical and emotional health is declining. The signs of grief can often mask underlying health conditions, and it is best to rule out any illness.
How Long Do Dogs Grieve?
There are many factors that can affect how long your dog grieves. Age and health of your dog can play a role, as well as the relationship to the deceased, and the grieving process of humans in the household.
If your dog is young, chances are he will grieve for a short time, or not at all, older dogs may grieve longer because they had more time to form a close bond. It all depends on how close their relationship was.
Dogs are very intuitive about our feelings and can sense when we are sad. If you are going through the grieving process, chances are your dog will feed off your emotions and feel the same way.
If you are expecting your dog to grieve but he is showing no signs at all, don’t be alarmed. Some dogs, don’t seem to show any emotional distress at all, this is especially true if your dog didn’t form a close bond with the family member or pet that died. Also, your dog may be enjoying the extra attention after the loss of another dog in the household.
Should You Replace A Lost Pet?
If your dog is grieving the loss of a canine companion, you may wish to consider adding another furry friend to the family to help your dog heal.
While another dog to play with might help your dog get out of his slump, it is important to not rush into this decision.
Allow your dog time to grieve, and adjust to life without his friend. Adding a new canine companion to the family too soon might cause your dog more stress.
Do Dogs Show Grief? Final Thoughts
If your dog has recently suffered a loss, you may have noticed a change in his behaviour or demeanour. Whether or not it is grief over the loss of a loved one, or what skeptics argue is a reaction to changes in routine, you’ll want to do everything you can to lift your dog’s spirits again.
Grief is a hard process to go through, and it is hard to witness your dog suffering. Over time your dog will bounce back, it is important to be patient and offer lots of love and support.
If you are suffering the loss of a dog, you’ll want to read my previous article How To Grieve The Loss Of A Dog, for some helpful tips.
Do you believe dogs show grief? Have you noticed any signs of grief in your dog? Share your thoughts and comments below, I would love to hear from you.