Why Losing A Dog Can Be Harder Than Losing A Relative Or Friend


Published:

Recently, my wife and I went through one of the more excruciating experiences of our lives – the euthanasia of our beloved dog, Murphy. I remember making eye contact with Murphy moments before she took her last breath – she flashed me a look that was an endearing blend of confusion and the reassurance that everyone was ok because we were both by her side.

When people who have never had a dog see their dog-owning friends mourn the loss of a pet, they probably think it’s all a bit of an overreaction; after all, it’s “just a dog.”

However, those who have loved a dog know the truth: Your own pet is never “just a dog.”

Many times, I’ve had friends guiltily confide to me that they grieved more over the loss of a dog than over the loss of friends or relatives. Research has confirmed that for most people, the loss of a dog is, in almost every way, comparable to the loss of a human loved one. Unfortunately, there’s little in our cultural playbook – no grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper, no religious service – to help us get through the loss of a pet, which can make us feel more than a bit embarrassed to show too much public grief over our dead dogs.

Perhaps if people realized just how strong and intense the bond is between people and their dogs, such grief would become more widely accepted. This would greatly help dog owners to integrate the death into their lives and help them move forward.

An Interspecies Bond Like No Other

What is it about dogs, exactly, that make humans bond so closely with them?

For starters, dogs have had to adapt to living with humans over the past 10,000 years. And they’ve done it very well: They’re the only animal to have evolved specifically to be our companions and friends. Anthropologist Brian Hare has developed the “Domestication Hypothesis” to explain how dogs morphed from their grey wolf ancestors into the socially skilled animals that we now interact with in very much the same way as we interact with other people.

Perhaps one reason our relationships with dogs can be even more satisfying than our human relationships is that dogs provide us with such unconditional, uncritical positive feedback. (As the old saying goes, “May I become the kind of person that my dog thinks I already am.”)

This is no accident. They have been selectively bred through generations to pay attention to people, and MRI scans show that dog brains respond to praise from their owners just as strongly as they do to food (and for some dogs, praise is an even more effective incentive than food). Dogs recognize people and can learn to interpret human emotional states from facial expression alone. Scientific studies also indicate that dogs can understand human intentions, try to help their owners and even avoid people who don’t cooperate with their owners or treat them well.

Not surprisingly, humans respond positively to such unrequited affection, assistance and loyalty. Just looking at dogs can make people smile. Dog owners score higher on measures of well-being and they are happier, on average, than people who own cats or no pets at all.

Like A Member Of The Family

Our strong attachment to dogs was subtly revealed in a recent study of “misnaming.” Misnaming happens when you call someone by the wrong name, like when parents mistakenly calls one of their kids by a sibling’s name. It turns out that the name of the family dog also gets confused with human family members, indicating that the dog’s name is being pulled from the same cognitive pool that contains other members of the family. (Curiously, the same thing rarely happens with cat names.)

It’s no wonder dog owners miss them so much when they’re gone.

Psychologist Julie Axelrod has pointed out that the loss of a dog is so painful because owners aren’t just losing the pet. It could mean the loss of a source of unconditional love, a primary companion who provides security and comfort, and maybe even a protégé that’s been mentored like a child.

The loss of a dog can also seriously disrupt an owner’s daily routine more profoundly than the loss of most friends and relatives. For owners, their daily schedules – even their vacation plans – can revolve around the needs of their pets. Changes in lifestyle and routine are some of the primary sources of stress.

According to a recent survey, many bereaved pet owners will even mistakenly interpret ambiguous sights and sounds as the movements, pants and whimpers of the deceased pet. This is most likely to happen shortly after the death of the pet, especially among owners who had very high levels of attachment to their pets.

While the death of a dog is horrible, dog owners have become so accustomed to the reassuring and nonjudgmental presence of their canine companions that, more often than not, they’ll eventually get a new one.

So yes, I miss my dog. But I’m sure that I’ll be putting myself through this ordeal again in the years to come.

Frank McAndrew is the Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College and an elected fellow of several professional organizations, including the Association for Psychological Science (APS). He is an evolutionary social psychologist whose research is guided by the simple desire to make sense of everyday life, and he is currently studying gossip, aggression, and creepiness.

This article was republished from The Conversation.

See also:
How To Give Your Canine Companion The TLC They Deserve
5 Alternative Health Treatments For Pets

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

June 25, 2017

Home and family-centered activities are encouraged and supported by the Cancer Moon. With rousing Mars testing Jupiter and approaching a trine to Neptune, either a home beautification project or a day trip could be in the works. Many folks want to be out…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

June 2017

A one-day class facilitated by Reiki Shihan (Master-Teacher), Lou Orsan Reiki Level I is an introduction to the basic principles of traditional Usui Reiki. The skills learned are designed to...

Cost: $125

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road, Suite B2
Framingham, MA  01701
View map »


Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
Website »

More information

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

1 session remaining Explore ancient shamanic healing techniques in this safe, experiential workshop. Learn the basic, core technique of the shamanic journey, a visionary method used to...

Cost: $35 per session

Where:
Keene Unitarian Universalist Church
69 Washington Street
(and corner of Taylor Street)
Keene, NH
View map »


Sponsor: Cycles of Spirit Spiritualist Church & One Spirit Shamanic Arts
Contact Name: Jay Thomas
Website »

More information

HamletHub Whole New You Series Hearst Media Entertaining Conversations Series Member pre-sale begins Tuesday, May 2 at 10am Public sale Friday, May 5 at 10am After the show Tyler will do an...

Cost: $72.50

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Telephone: 203-438-5795
Contact Name: Sue LaColla
Website »

More information

Sunday Reiki treatments with Reiki master and practitioner Linda Simons in Brookline, MA. Start your week off on a more balanced note with a Reiki treatment on a Sunday afternoon. Please join me...

Cost: Sliding Scale $20-$40

Where:
233 Harvard Street
Suite 36
Brookline, MA  02446
View map »


Telephone: 617-304-2205
Contact Name: LInda Simons
Website »

More information

You can sit with your favorite medium and get a message from your loved ones in spirit and experience the relaxation of Spiritual Healing with one of our trained healers (pets also welcome!) We...

Where:
Arlington Masonic Temple
19 Academy Street
Arlington, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Greater Boston Church of Spiritualism
Telephone: 617-923-4334
Website »

More information

Prayer for Peace — Lao-Tse If there is to be peace in the world, There must be peace in the nations. If there is to be peace in the nations, There must be peace in the cities. If...

Cost: Donation / heart offering

Where:
HeartSong Spiritual Wellness
23 Pine Street
Milford, MA  01757
View map »


Sponsor: HeartSong Spiritual Wellness Center
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

Qigong is an amazing practice for health, healing and inspiration. Qigong is a series of flowing and repeated movements, stretches and breathing exercises that are very easy to learn and may be...

Cost: Drop in $20 or purchase series card

Where:
The Yoga Depot
17 Depot Square
Lexington, MA  02420
View map »


Sponsor: BodyWork Revolution
Telephone: 781-372-1000
Contact Name: Steve Cunningham
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

6/27, 7/11, 7/18 and 7/25 Creative movement class for ages 3-6. ​Kids dance and yoga class that uses imagination, exploration and creative movements to discover how their body works. Helps...

Cost: $18 - $50

Where:
YOUnity Yoga & Wellness
189 Main Street
Milford, MA  01757
View map »


Telephone: 508-478-3333
Contact Name: BJ Hickson
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

Slow down and relax your mind and body while engaging in a variety of mindfulness activities.  Tarot Card Readings available to the first 6 people who register. Being mindful is one of...

Cost: $20/$25

Where:
HeartSong Spiritual Wellness
23 Pine Street
Milford, MA  01757
View map »


Website »

More information

Weekly yoga classes with Rev. Michelle Caron, RMT, CYT, ZIN of Harmony Way on Wednesdays at 12:15 PM and Fridays at 9:30 AM at the Wilbraham Senior Center. Class welcomes all ages and uses a...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Rev. Michelle Caron, RMT, CYT, ZIN
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

A Reiki Share is a gathering of Reiki practitioners who congregate for a combination social/healing session. The primary purpose of having a "share" is for practitioners to participate in...

Cost: $10

Where:
Open Doors
395 Washington Street
Braintree, MA  02170
View map »


Sponsor: Leslie Miller Jewett
Telephone: (857) 526-3301
Contact Name: Leslie Miller Jewett
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

Weekly yoga classes with Rev. Michelle Caron, RMT, CYT, ZIN of Harmony Way on Wednesdays at 12:15 PM and Fridays at 9:30 AM at the Wilbraham Senior Center. Class welcomes all ages and uses a...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Rev. Michelle Caron, RMT, CYT, ZIN
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Wild Vibes will be kicking off the seacoast summer with their fourth annual Wild Vibes Yoga Festival on July 1st at Spring Hill in South Berwick. A festival focused on bringing people back to their...

Cost: $15 - $65

Where:
Spring Hill
117 Pond Rd
South Berwick, ME  03908
View map »


Contact Name: Magnolia Barrett
Website »

More information

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags