There’s good reason that dogs have earned the timeless moniker “man’s best friend.” Our love for furry family members has spanned the ages. Dogs have been a part of our collective history since before the written word. Depictions of dogs as pets extend back thousands of years to the earliest cave paintings. Archaeologists recently found 12,000-year-old burial site containing remains of an elderly man cradling a puppy. History from all sides provides evidence of the immortal bond between dogs and humans.
So what happens when that bond comes to an end? Folks without a dog in their life may have a difficult time understanding the depth of grief that dog owners feel when they lose their beloved pet. But research confirms that for most people, the loss of a dog is, in almost every way, comparable to the loss of a human loved one.
Humans and their dogs forge a strong, intense bond. The reason this particular interspecies connection is so powerful is multifaceted. For starters, dogs have been living with humans for over 10,000 years. So, they’ve had time to adapt to make the most of the relationship. And they’ve done their job well; dogs are the only animal to have evolved specifically to be our companions and friends.
Any dog owner can gush about the unconditional positive feedback you get from your pup. This level of love is no accident. Throughout the generations, dogs were selectively bred to pay attention to people. Turning back to science, MRI scans show that dog brains respond to praise from their owners at the same level that they do to food. Dogs are able to recognize people and are so keyed into our human feelings that they can interpret human emotional states from facial expression alone.
We as humans lap up the unrequited affection, assistance, and loyalty our dogs provide. Research on dog owners indicates that people with a pup at home score higher on measures of well-being, and are happier than people who own cats or no pets at all. Think about those cute pictures of puppies that come across your Facebook feed – just looking at dogs can make you smile.
When we lose our canine companion, the loss feels so great because we aren’t just losing our pet. Psychologists point out that we also lose a source of unconditional love, security and comfort. Herein lies the reason that the loss of a dog can feel harder than the loss of a friend or family member.
Couple that with the acute impact of the loss of a dog on our daily lives. After all, they are a part of the family. For owners, daily schedules can revolve around the needs of pets, whether it’s with scheduling walks or a vacation. Changes in lifestyle and routine are recognized as some of the primary sources of stress. The disruption of our daily routine resonates profoundly and can intensify the grief we naturally feel when we lose any loved one.
While the death of a dog is heartbreaking, dog owners accept the pain of this inevitable loss to reap the myriad rewards dogs bring into our lives. Humans throughout time have been accustomed to the reassuring and nonjudgmental presence of their canine companions. With that kind of history, it’s unlikely that the bond between dogs and their humans will change anytime soon.