Can Dogs Feel the Loss of a Loved One?

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Dogs are smart, sentient creatures with a ton of traits similar to humans. They’ve also been the subject of studies with pawsome results. Our woofers are emotive, intelligent and can just about read your mind. Watch them when they mimic your expressions or comfort you in times of stress. 

If a human or doggy pal dies, can they grieve the way humans do? Are they capable of understanding their friend is not coming back? Let's ask the hard questions. Can a dog feel the loss of a guardian or other dog? Some say definitely, while others will tell you no way. What do you think?

Signs Your Dog is Grieving

The loss of a loved one is never easy to bear, as we come face to face with our mortality and feel the pain associated with grief. We understand the how and why, but if there’s a dog in the home, how do they cope when their master or mistress is suddenly gone?

It's a mystery they may not comprehend, as they watch other members of the family cry and grieve. Our mutt-mates are tuned in and can pick up emotional vibes. If the home has a sad ambiance, it's likely your pup will feel that way too. They’ll notice someone is missing and if they have a checkered past and were hyper-attached to their guardian, your pup might be about to go into orbit.

Feelings of depression could overwhelm your Rambo Rottweiler as they fret, knowing their owner hasn’t come home. Some dogs form a bond with one person and only feel comfortable when they are around. This clingy-kind-of-pup could get neurotic if their guardian is no longer there. Separation anxiety will take hold and while family members are coping with the loss, their Rottweiler is losing control.

Where cruisy family dogs might feel depressed and go off their food for a time, this persistent pup will find it hard to deal with. There could be constant whining and barking at the door, as if willing their guardian to appear. They may pace from room to room, howling and whimpering as they sniff their pet-parent's scent. 

If they are left alone they could act out and chew on their lost guardian's shoes, or go to the bathroom all over the floor. Their confused feelings of grief may cause aggression toward strangers that come to pay their respects. This could result in a dog barring their teeth and growling, with the fur raised on the back of their neck. 

So what happens when a dog loses another woofer in the home? The degree of grief will depend on the relationship between the dogs. If it was ultra-close, then the remaining pup will feel the loss. Like people mourn their loved ones in their own unique way, dogs mourn the loss of a close canine.

A dog cannot tell how us how they feel, so we look for signs in their behavior to give us clues. If they are depressed and have no desire to go for their daily walk, you can assume your dog is missing their friend. Where they once came to you with a toy and play bowed trying to initiate fun, this sad pup might withdraw or completely shut down.

Can a dog have broken heart? It seems possible when you recall the famous story of Hachiko, an Akita dog breed, who waited at a train station in Japan every day for his deceased owner to return.

A professor of Primate Behavior at the Emory University in Atlanta has studied the behavior of primates when they lose a family member. He believes animals do mourn the loss of family members - depending on the depth of attachment. 

The "Daily Mail," featured the tale of Captain, a German shepherd that refused to leave his masters grave. When his guardian passed away, he ran away and when the family went to their loved one's grave, they found Captain. The family was never sure how he found the grave and tried to bring him home, but Captain kept returning to his guardian's resting place.

Body Language

Here are signs your dog is feeling the loss of a guardian or other dog:
  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Chewing
  • Back hair on edge
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

Here are more signs your dog is grieving for their owner or housemate:
  • Depressed
  • Not Eating
  • Sleeping More
  • Doesn't Want to Play
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Snarling at Strangers

The History of Dogs Feeling Loss

Wolves evolved millions of years ago and are known to mourn their dead. When a member of the pack dies, they howl and stand quietly by the deceased member. Some who were close might take themselves away from the pack, preferring to grieve alone. “White Wolf Pack,” revealed the death of a mate caused the entire pack to mourn. They appeared depressed, with their heads and tails hung low. Their spirit crushed by the loss.

Wolves are the grandfather of dogs and share with their offspring the right to mourn their loved ones. We have become their new pack, and if one of us passes into the great beyond, the family dog will feel the loss.

It’s a skeptical world, but one can’t deny the kinship between wolf and dog when it comes to feeling grief. It’s also true that living with humans for thousands of years has evolved our pups to emulate some of our classic traits. Either way, dogs inherently have an understanding of loss and can feel the effects. The author of “How Animals Grieve," a professor of anthropology, suspects all animals grieve. She noted how dolphins will not accept a baby has died and continue to keep them close in the water

Another story by the “New York Post,” highlights the respect animal’s show when a companion dies. A dressage horse had to be put to sleep and was buried on the owner’s property - who was amazed to see the other horses standing around the grave, heads hung low. The next morning they were still there. A young chimpanzee died soon after its moms passing, even though it was old enough to feed and carry on.

When animals bond, whether it is a mother and child relationship or one of friendship, they grieve, and sometimes the emotional upset is so great, they too pass on. Our pawsome dogs have the mournful spirit of the wolf and the heartfelt grief of humans.

Science Studies How Dogs Grieve

Dogs are a stylish interpretation of two formidable earthly species, the wolf and mankind. Originally bred for hunting, herding, and friendship, dogs evolved into vanity breeds, unique to each nation.

Their capacity to think on their own was never questioned until science began a full-scale analysis of canine consciousness - with startling results. Newspapers around the world ran the stories as they came. "Dogs are emotional; they may feel empathy, jealousy, and loss!"

These human-inspired characteristics were now being shared with our mutts. Charles Darwin may win the argument that animals have feelings and awareness, as scientific studies are proving. Back in the 17th century, a philosopher named Rene Descartes insisted that animals could not possibly feel such things and gained wide support for his theory. He believed dogs and all other animals were mechanical beings and incapable of having emotions or understanding the loss of a loved one.

The 21st century has been kind to our mutts, with a study funded by the "Morris Animal Foundation," showing dogs can grieve. Around 259 pet owners who had suffered a pet loss, in the last five years took part. The dogs affected were reported to eat a lot slower than usual and spend more time sleeping. They would also look for their deceased doggy-mate, checking all the places they would usually hang out. Some dogs became clingy, demanding more attention, while others whined and howled.

The disbelief that their canine chum was gone is similar to how humans often react. We’ve seen images of dogs lying on graves and the heart-rendering scene of a Labrador named Hawkeye, who lay diligently by the coffin of his Navy Seal master during his funeral featured in the Daily Mail.

It’s difficult to denounce the growing amount of evidence that dogs are a lot like us and mourn their human and household companions.

Tips To Help Your Dog Deal With Loss

When a person dies, family members and friends tend to rally around offering support, while the family dog may take a back seat during the mourning process. Grief is a feeling like no other and can be overwhelming for both humans and dogs, so it’s important to keep an eye on Roxy, your sad looking Lab who is missing her pet parent. Keeping her routine the same will help and if she doesn’t feel as hungry as normal, offer dinner to her later.

If members of the family are busy taking care of each other, ask a neighbor or friend to take Roxy for walks. This is a great distraction and also gets her away from the home. Perhaps time out at a local, doggy daycare could lift her spirits, depending on how she copes with being away from the family. Make sure this mournful pup gets plenty of affection. Dogs have difficulty understanding why a pet mom or dad is no longer there and can go searching for them and miraculously find their grave. If Roxy gets depressed and refuses to eat, take her to the vet.

The Telegraph ran a tragic story about a dog abandoned at an airport that died of a broken heart. This sorrowful pup wandered around an airport in Columbia for a month before being taken to a shelter. She had been given food by airport staff, but she refused to eat. After attempts to save the female pup, she became more depressed and died.

Whether a dog loses their housemate or owner, the grief process can be the same. Experts believe a dog reacts to death the way children do, not completely grasping the permanence of their owners passing. This could be the reason so many pooches hold vigilance or go in search of their missing guardian. It is thought a dog’s mental capacity is that of a 2-year-old, whose concept of death is limited. That makes the images of dogs lying on graves and waiting in the same spot for years a truly sad sight. Where humans are generally able to move on, dogs can be stuck in a virtual state of grief.

Dogs are emotional beings with the depth of character to understand and feel loss!

How to React When Your Dog is Grieving:

  • Keep up their normal routine.
  • Give your pooch plenty of love.
  • Take them out for walks as a distraction.
  • Give them lots of attention.
  • Be aware of behavioral changes.
  • Take your grieving pooch to the vet if they are not coping.

Share With Us How Your Dog Coped with the Loss of a Loved One!