That being said, though, do dogs know about death to the degree that people do? Do they understand what death is and why it's happening? This is hard to answer. There's evidence of dogs mourning the loss of fellow dog companions as well as owners, and there's also evidence of dogs sensing impending loss. The question of whether or not dogs fully understand death, though, is probably not one we can completely answer. We do have more information on this subject below, though.
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Signs Your Dog can Sense Death
For example, dogs who are sensing impending death will likely cling to and surround the person or animal they're sensing. This happens for a few reasons. Dogs have incredible senses of smell, and when diseases, sicknesses, or other types of physiological changes happen, the micro-smells that are associated with these changes are picked up by dogs.
You can expect your dog to sniff or lick the sick or ill person, as well as becoming increasingly obsessive about spending time around them. Some dogs might whine, whimper, or howl, while others might try to draw less attention to the dying person or animal and sit quietly with them, taking on a protective role.
- Dropped Ears
- Stiff tail
- Pacing near a dying animal or person.
- Howling or barking.
- Being overly protective
- Excessive licking and sniffing
- Staying close
- Mourning and pouting
History of Dogs Sensing Death
Some people claim that dogs have some kind of sixth sense when it comes to encroaching death, with plenty of anecdotal reports that aim to back up these claims, however, it's likely that most of the reason dogs are able to sense death is due to their keen senses and awareness.
The Science Behind Dogs Sensing Death
Dogs have about 300 million olfactory senses in their noses compared to only about 6 million found in human noses. When physiological changes occur in humans and animals, tiny smells are given off and small changes of odor can be detected by your pup. While these might not be evident to humans, your dog, with an olfactory cortex that's about 40 times the size of a human's, is able to detect the tiniest changes.
When a person or animal is dying, their smell changes, something your dog is able to pick up on much quicker than people.
Training Your Dog to Detect Death
Cadaver dogs are pups who are specially trained to sniff out dead bodies. Training a cadaver dog requires that your dog be familiar with human blood, decaying flesh, bones, and other human decomposition smells. Decaying people produce volatile organic compounds, and because your dog has a gifted nose, they're the perfect detective to help locate missing people and dead bodies. If you're looking to train your dog to be a search and cadaver dog, you'll need to work with a certified trainer who is able to get their hands on these materials.
If you're interested in training your pooch to be a hospice comfort dog or a therapy dog, you'll first have ensure that your dog is a gentle, well-behaved pup by nature. Next, you'll need to train your dog to pass various, basic obedience tests as well as commands listed in the Therapy Dogs International Testing Brochure in order to ensure that they're qualified to act as gentle therapy and hospice pups.
How to React if Your Dog is Sensing Death:
Don't punish your dog for acting strangely, rather, try to get to the bottom of their behavior.
If your dog is agitated, attempt to soothe them to get a better understanding of what's happening.
Ensure that if your dog is trying to comfort a dying animal or person, they're doing so safely.
If your dog is trying to be overprotective, ensure they're not biting or nipping.