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Do dogs mourn?

Dogs can be ‘devastated’ by the loss of a companion, says David Tomlinson

sad spaniel

Do dogs grieve?

My recent viewpoint on whether dogs mourn and experience grief when they lose a companion drew an interesting response from readers. (Read this piece on depression in dogs.)

Sue Knight’s experiences echoed mine. She wrote: “In the 38 years I have owned Weimaraners and labradors, none seemed affected by the death of a kennel companion. All my bitches and dogs lived to the average breed age or beyond. Apart from one sire/son relationship, the others were not related and lived in harmony, usually with an age difference of four years.

“The dogs knew, as I did, when the end of life was approaching. I may return from the vet tearful, having had a dog put down, but the remaining, younger companion slipped easily up the hierarchy ladder. One labrador changed from an introvert to extrovert overnight, but none went off food or pined.”

Dogs mourn

This contrasts sharply with the reaction of Anthony Pell’s Jack Russell terrier after his litter brother had been put down. (Read more about Jack Russells here.)

“The surviving terrier exhibited what can only be described as extreme grief. That evening, as usual, I put the survivor to bed and went to bed myself, only to be disturbed not long afterwards by mournful howling. He only stopped howling once I went down and sat with him. This continued for several nights, though the period of howling reduced, until eventually he settled into his solo existence, living until he was 18.”

Sue Evans told a similar story: “We had a springador, a lovely dog with a sweet nature. We then got a labrador puppy. The springador went mad about the puppy and took him under his wing. They slept together and worked together in the field, with never a cross word. When the springador was put to sleep, the labrador was absolutely devastated and cried every night. It was very distressing for us, too, as we missed the little dog. It was only when we got a springer and labrador puppies that he recovered.”

There’s no doubt that some dogs mourn and do suffer from the loss of a companion, whereas others get on with life as if nothing has happened. It’s a reminder of how different each dog is.