Can Dogs Help with Grief?

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Introduction

Among the millions of reasons dogs are so amazing is their ability to soothe us when we are sad or in mourning. Ever have a bad day at work or receive some bad news? Your dog picks up on this through your visual cues - crying, frowning and/or other body language - and can tell you are sad.  

They will quickly be by your side, nuzzling your hand so you can pet them, cuddle them or just cry into their furry bodies. They want us to be happy; when we are sad, they will do whatever they can to make us know we are not alone.  

Did you know that our anxiety is substantially reduced every time we simply pet a dog? It is a proven fact! Our pups are there for us in the good times and the bad - dogs are incredible like that.

Introduction of Can Dogs Help with Grief?

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Signs Your Dog Knows Someone is Sad

Your pup is very intuitive to energies - be it good, bad or sad. They are sponges for our energy and normally reflect our energy back to us. 

When a dog notices you are sad, for example, you may see them lower their ears, lie down and stare at you with big old puppy eyes. Your sadness has affected them and they are concerned. Within a few minutes, your pup may come over to you and sit quietly by your side. 

They are there for you to pet, hug or cry on. They will normally not leave your side until your energy changes or you are, at the very least, not quite as sad. 

If you are ever on the receiving end of a Dog's empathetic attempt to cheer you, let them know they are a good boy or girl - because they really are!

If a dog notices someone crying, for instance, they will approach slowly with their head down, their tail tucked and will sit silently by the crying person's side. Until the crying person acknowledges the Dog's presence by either saying hello or petting them, the dog will stand, waiting.  

Once the dog receives a greeting, a pet or cuddle, the dog's tail will begin to wag, they become more alert and sometimes dogs will even lick the face of the person, perhaps even trying to lick the tears from that person's face. It really is very sweet - but hey, that's dogs for you!

Some other signs a dog is zoning in on someone who is sad or grieving are simply laying at the grieving person's feet and waiting for the grieving person to acknowledge them. This is a dog's way of letting grieving people know they are here for them and they will wait patiently until that grieving person is ready to reach out to the dog through a stroke, a kiss or a verbal thank you.

Body Language

These are signs that your pooch knows you're feeling blue:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Head tilting
  • Listening
  • Wag tail
  • Ears drop

Other Signs

Further signs your pup feels your sadness are:
  • Being silent
  • Nuzzling
  • Being attentive
  • Calmness

The History of Dogs Helping with Grief

History of Can Dogs Help with Grief?
Our dogs have always been there for us - ever since the time ancient canines/wolves starting hanging around human camps to forage for food over 10,000 years ago! Take for example the 12,000-year-old grave in Israel that was recently discovered with the remains of a woman holding the skeleton of a puppy.  

Our dogs want nothing more for us to be happy and will always be there to cheer us when we are sad or grieving.

Case in point - take into count the millions of therapy dogs throughout the country. When there is a local or national tragedy where there is loss of life, therapy dogs can be called upon to help humans mourn their loss and to comfort them when they need it most.  

Some funeral homes, retirement villages, hospitals and schools even have therapy dogs on hand to help families and friends grieve the loss of a loved one or to be there for a youngster who is perhaps experiencing their first cruel lesson in life - that loved ones die.   

The Science Behind Dogs Helping with Grief

Science of Can Dogs Help with Grief?

A recent study published in the Animal Cognition journal states that dogs are more apt to walk up to a person who is crying than when that person is exhibiting "normal" happy behaviors. The researchers concluded that a human crying had more of an emotional pull for the dogs - the dogs seemed to empathize with the crying human not from curiosity, but from pure concern. Dogs respond to the crying person's need, not their own. It is a very cool thing, doggies! 

It has also been proven that people that interact with dogs get an increased dose of oxytocin aka the love-feel-good-vibe hormone. Just by making eye contact with a dog, your oxytocin level will increase.

We know, right?  Dogs ARE amazing - as if we had to tell you that! Dogs are also responsible for a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol. Who needs vitamins? Give us a lifetime supply of Vitamin Doggy!

Training Your Pup to Help You and Others Through Grief or Sadness

Training of Can Dogs Help with Grief?
Studies suggest that a dog's ability or instinct to comfort sadness in humans comes naturally to them. They want us to be happy because we are their family.  

If you have a loving dog that you would like to train to help others through their grief, take these tips from the SPCA:  If your dog has a calm energy and loving personality, is at ease meeting strangers and connecting with people, is non-reactive to loud noises or disruptive situations, he/she may have the "right stuff" to become a grief therapy dog.  

Many organizations now have specialized training classes for therapy dogs- be sure to do your research and pick the right trainer for you and your pet.

How to react when a dog is attempting to comfort you:

  • Hug the dog and cry if you need to; the dog is there for you.
  • Stroke the dog lovingly and thank them for listening.