Dogs genuinely seem to be crying for their lost canine pals, survey reveals
The loss of a beloved canine companion is devastating, and new research shows you may not be the only one feeling it. Any other dogs in your family could also be grieving, as indicated by their behavior.
A survey of 426 owners of several dogs in Italy found that when one dog in the family dies, all the others are more likely than not to display a distinct lack of doggy shine, as noted by their humans. While this may not be new to dog lovers, the document represents a step towards acknowledging an aspect of animal care that has been underestimated.
“These results indicate that a dog may exhibit bereavement-related behavioral and emotional patterns when a close sibling dies, some aspects of which may be related to the emotional state of the owner,” writes a team led by the veterinary scientist. Federica Pirrone from the University of Milan. in their paper.
If you’ve ever had a pet, you might think that it sure has a rich and deep emotional life. However, scientific exploration and documentation of these emotional lives is only relatively recent.
Grief in particular is interesting because it might tell us something about animal cognition, while suggesting a subjective experience. And, in the case of pets, it can help us better meet their emotional needs.
Grieving behaviors have been observed in a number of animals, including non-human primates, elephants, cetaceans (such as dolphins), and others. However, there is very little in the scientific literature on bereavement in canids. It has been seen only rarely in the wild, and there is no documented evidence of heartache in our domestic friends.
So Pirrone and his team set out to find some. They recruited 426 humans who lived with at least two dogs, and who had experienced the death of one of those dogs. These humans were then instructed to anonymously complete a scientifically validated questionnaire about the behavior of their surviving dogs following their bereavement.
Humans have also described the relationship between dogs and their own reaction to their animal’s death. The researchers also assessed whether the humans’ memories of their pets’ responses were impacted by diminished memory of their own suffering during bereavement, to ensure as much as possible that memories of the behavior were not also affected.
For the majority of dogs, behavioral changes were noticed by their humans following the loss of their canine family members. Eight to six percent of humans said their dog’s behavior had become noticeably more restrained or needy.
The most common behavior, reported by 67% of these humans, was an increase in attention seeking, followed by 57% reporting a decrease in play and 46% reporting a decrease in all activities of their surviving dog. More time spent sleeping and more fearfulness were reported by 35% of owners, 32 reported decreased appetite and 30% reported more whining or barking.
Of the grieving dogs, 93% had lived with their friends for more than a year and 69% had friendly relationships. Interestingly, the length of time they lived together had no influence on the behavior of the surviving dog.
However, the strength of the relationship between the dogs correlated with the behavior of the surviving dogs, as did the emotions of the human. If the dogs had a friendly relationship and the human was also in a lot of pain, the surviving dog was more likely to show fear, be less interested in the activity, and seek more attention from their human.
But it’s not possible, based on this survey, to draw a solid conclusion and say definitively that dogs mourn the death of their friends, the researchers said. There are other factors that could influence dog behavior.
“Since human-dog bonding can affect a dog’s perception of a dead [meaning another dog]it would be difficult to assign a specific model, if any, of exploration,” they write in their paper.
“Not only can anthropomorphism play a role in assigning a specific function to dog behavior, but attention to a deceased individual can also result from increased attention from owners. Unsurprisingly, emotional contagion could also be considered, as stress appears to be contagious between dogs and owners. Our findings may suggest that dogs react to the ‘loss’ of an affiliate, more than to their ‘death’ per se.”
Either way, it seems dogs are sensing something. If that means happier, healthier animal friends, further investigation into how dogs react to death seems entirely warranted, the researchers note.
The paper was published in Scientific reports.