Why losing a dog can be harder than losing a family member or friend

Recently, my wife and I had one of the most excruciating experiences of our lives: the euthanasia of our beloved dog, Murphy. I remember looking at Murphy for a few moments before taking her last breath - she gave me a look that was an endearing mix of confusion and the assurance that everyone was fine because we were both at her side.

When people who have never had a dog see their pet friends crying the loss of a pet, they probably think it's a bit of an overreaction; after all, it's "just a dog".
However, those who loved a dog know the truth: your pet is never "just a dog".


Often, friends confided to me with guilt that they regretted more the loss of a dog than that of friends or relatives. Research has confirmed that for most people the loss of a dog is, in almost all cases, comparable to the loss of a loved one. Unfortunately, our cultural notebook contains few things - no grief rituals, no obituaries in local newspapers, no religious service - to help us overcome the loss of a pet, which can make us feel more comfortable. embarrassed to show too much public sorrow for our dead dogs.

Perhaps if people realized how strong and intense the connection between humans and their dogs was, this grief would be more widely accepted. This would greatly help dog owners integrate death into their lives and help them move forward.


An interspecific link unlike any other

What makes humans so closely related to dogs, precisely?

For starters, dogs have had to adapt to human life over the last 10,000 years. And they did it very well: it's the only animal that has evolved specifically to be our companions and friends. Anthropologist Brian Hare has developed the "domestication hypothesis" to explain how dogs have gone from gray wolf ancestors to socially competent animals with whom we now interact in the same way as we interact with other people.

Perhaps one of the reasons our relationships with dogs can be even more satisfying than our human relationships is that dogs provide us with such unconditional and noncritical positive feedback. (As the old saying goes, "Can I become the kind of person my dog ​​already thinks to be?")

It is not a coincidence. They have been raised from generation to generation to pay attention to people, and MRIs show that dog brains respond to the praise of their owners with as much force as food (and for some dogs, praise is still an incentive). more effective than food)... Dogs recognize people and can learn to interpret human emotional states solely from facial expression. Scientific studies also indicate that dogs can understand human intentions, try to help their owners and even avoid people who do not cooperate with their owners or treat them badly.

Unsurprisingly, humans respond positively to such affection, assistance, and unreserved loyalty. Just looking at dogs can make people smile. Dog owners have better results in measuring well-being and on average are happier than people who own cats or have no pets.


As a family member

Our recent attachment to dogs has been subtly revealed in a recent study on "the wrong designation". This error occurs when you call someone by their wrong name, such as when parents wrongly call one of their children after a sibling. It turns out that the name of the dog in the family is also confused with human members of the family, which indicates that the dog's name is extracted from the same cognitive pool that contains the other members of the family. (Curiously, the same thing happens rarely with cat names.)

It is no wonder that dog owners miss them so much when they are gone.

Psychologist Julie Axelrod pointed out that the loss of a dog is very painful because the owners do not just do it. It could mean the loss of a source of unconditional love, the main companion that offers security and comfort, and perhaps even a protégé who has been mentored like a child.


The loss of a dog can also seriously upset the owner's daily routine, more deeply than the loss of most of his friends and loved ones. For the owners, their daily schedule Even their holiday plans can be built around the needs of their pets. Lifestyle and routine changes are among the main sources of stress.

According to one survey, many grieving pet owners will even misinterpret ambiguous images and sounds as movements, pants, and slippers of the deceased animal. This is most likely to occur after the death of the animal, especially in owners very attached to their animals.

While the death of a dog is horrible, dog owners are so accustomed to the reassuring and uncritical presence of their companions that, most often, they will eventually have a new one.

So yes, I miss my dog. But I'm sure I will submit to this test again in the years to come.

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  1. I've lost and grieved for several dogs during my lifetime, but nothing can compare to the agony of losing my child. Go through that and tell me it's the same as losing a dog.