by Franklin Medina
Have you ever wondered if your dog would miss you if you died? The answer is an unqualified “Yes.” Most animal behaviorists believe that dogs feel all the same emotions that humans do, and that includes grief.
Most of us know the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby from reading about him in school, but just in case you slept through class, here’s a refresher course. Bobby was a Skye Terrier who was owned by John (Old Jock) Grey in the Scottish city of Edinburgh. Jock died in 1858, and for the next 14 years, Bobby lay on his grave in all manner of weather, grieving for his dead master. Townspeople brought Bobby food and water, and when Bobby finally died, they erected a monument to him in recognition of his loyalty.
The thing is, Bobby might not be the exception. Many animal behaviorists believe that dogs don’t grieve all that much differently from the way humans do, and they may miss their loved ones for a very long time.
How Long Does Grief Last?
People who have undergone grief counselling typically report depression following the death of someone they loved. Over time, the depression decreases. The time it takes can vary widely from person to person. Sometimes, a couple of months is all it takes, and oddly, this really doesn’t relate to the nature, length, or depth of the love. People who have been childhood sweethearts well into their senior years can sometimes get past it in little time. Other times, the grief may last much longer, and even require psychological help in order to move past it. Most psychologists believe that it can take about five years before we really feel that we will be okay without our loved one.
Dogs and Bereavement
When a dog loses someone he loves, he can suffer the pangs of grief and depression the same way that humans do, and the extent to which he feels those emotions will depend on how closely bonded he was with the human. If the dog was very dependent on the human, or prone to separation anxiety when separated from that human, then he may not cope well with the loss. In fact, he may be in serious emotional pain. It is, at its essence, a type of extreme and protracted separation anxiety. The dog may quite simply be unprepared to deal with life without his beloved human.
Helping a Grieving Dog
If you have inherited a grieving dog, then you can do things to help. He will probably never forget his beloved human, but you can do things that you would do for anyone else who is grieving – in other words, understand how he feels. Try to think of activities that will take his mind off his loss, even in the short term. Play with him. Pet him. Take him for long walks so that when he comes back, he will slip into easy, restful sleep and gain some respite from the constant presence of grief. And most important, let him know that he is still loved. No longer by the person who meant the world to him, but by you.
It’s hard for anyone to get past grief, and it’s no easier for a dog who has lost someone he loved. Do the same things you would do for humans. Be kind and considerate. Let him know that there is still love in the world, and that you will offer it. In short, treat him the way you would want to be treated if you suffered a heart-wrenching loss.
Franklin Medina lives in comfortable squalor with Boxers, Janice and Leroy, and spends a lot of time with human and canine friends down at the dog park. You can read more from Franklin at https://simplyfordogs.com/.