Studies have shown that our relationships with dogs can be even more satisfying than our relationship with humans.
Within the past year, I went through one of the most horrific experiences of my life – the euthanasia of my beloved dog, George. I remember, to this day, taking George to the vets and thinking that he just had a kidney infection. Nothing was wrong, he was going for a check-up, and he would be picked up later that day. But unfortunately, things did not pan out that way and I lost the little bundle of love that I had in my life since I was ten years old.
When people who have never had the opportunity to have a dog in their lives, and to see them lose something that means so much to someone is really a heartbreaking moment.
So when those, who have not owned a dog, see 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. That your own pet is never “just a dog.”
There have been occasions where people have said they feel worse about mourning a dog’s death over the loss of friends or a relative. Research has confirmed that for most people, the death of a dog is – in almost every way – can’t be compared to the loss of a human.
However, unfortunately, there is a little gap in our society where there is a lack of grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper or no religious service to help us get through the loss of a pet.
This can actually make us dog-lovers feel a little embarrassed to show too much emotion over our dead dogs.
Perhaps if people realised just how strong and intense the bond is between a person and their dogs, such grief would become more widely accepted in our society. This would greatly help dog owners cope with their beloved dog’s death and help them move forward from their loss.
So, what is it about dogs 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.
They’re the only animal to have evolved specifically to be our companions and friends – therefore introducing the phrase of: ‘A man’s best friend.’
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 as our ‘best friends’.
Perhaps one reason our relationships with dogs can be even more meaningful than our human relationships is that a dog provides us with so much unconditional love and we are the only people that have meaning to them – unlike humans.
Dogs have been selectively bred through generations to pay attention to people, and MRI scans have shown 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 also recognise people and can learn to interpret human emotional states from a facial expression alone.
Scientific studies also indicate that dogs can understand human intentions, therefore this is why your dog may try and help you out, or even avoid people who they know their owners do not get on with – as a form of protection.
Not surprisingly, humans respond positively to such unrequited affection, assistance and loyalty.
Just looking at dogs can make people smile and feel happy.
Dog’s owners also score higher with well-being measures and scientifically have been proven to be happier, on average, than people who own cats or no pets at all.
Humans strong attachment to dogs was subtly shown in a recent study of “misnaming.” Misnaming happens when you call someone by the wrong name, like when a parent mistakenly calls one of their children by a siblings 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.
Psychologist Julie Axelrod has shown 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 and a form of fo protection for a person.
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 make implications and disrupt an owners daily routine more profoundly than the loss of a human. For owners, their daily schedules, even their holiday plans, can revolve around the needs of their pets.
Changes in lifestyle and routine are some of the primary sources of stress, which therefore shows that the loss of a dog can mentally impact humans more than we think.
In a recent survey, many pet owners who have lost their loved one, will mistakenly interpret ambiguous sights and sounds as the movements, pants and whimpers of the deceased pet.
However, this is most likely to happen shortly after the pet’s death – especially among owners who had very high attachment levels to their pets and rely on them in their daily routines.
While a dog’s death is horrible, dog owners have become so accustomed to the reassuring and nonjudgmental presence of their canine companions that they will eventually get a new one, more often than not.
So yes, I miss George.
I can empathise with the pain that anyone who loses a dog feels. The loss of a dog is heartbreaking and something that I would not wish upon anyone.
Mourning a dog is something that society needs to accept, and showing emotions towards losing a pet needs to be normalised in this day and age.