Our Dogs Likely Mourn the Deaths of Other Household Dogs, Study Finds
There are many accounts of dogs mourning the loss of their humans, like Greyfriars Bobby, a Scottish dog who stood vigil over his owner's grave for 14 years. But a new study shows our four-legged friends may also grieve the loss of canines they live with.
In the study, an international team of researchers surveyed 426 Italian adults who lived with at least two dogs, one of whom had died. The survey used in the study, dubbed the "Mourning Dog Questionnaire," took the team years to develop and underwent multiple rounds of testing to ensure its validity.
Based on their results, the team found that 86 percent of respondents reported their surviving dogs displayed negative behavioral changes after the loss of another household dog. One of the study's lead authors, Federica Pirrone, professor in veterinary ethology and animal welfare at the University of Milan, summed up their results for The Guardian: "Overall, dogs were reported to play and eat less, sleep more, and seek more for owners' attention."
Here's what else researchers found:
- 67 percent of dogs sought more attention
- 57 percent were less playful
- 46 percent were less active
- 35 percent slept more
- 35 percent were more fearful
- 32 percent ate less
- 30 percent barked or whined more frequently
Around 33 percent of dogs in the study exhibited these negative behaviors for two to six months after losing their canine companion while 25 percent acted differently for more than 6 months.
Interestingly, how long the dogs lived together didn't seem to impact whether the surviving dogs displayed negative behaviors. Instead, the strength of the bond between the two dogs was a much more positive predictor of grieving behaviors. Pirrone told The Guardian this likely means that the surviving dog has lost an attachment figure who provided safety and security.
A wide range of animals have been observed "grieving" and engaging in what seem like death rituals, including whales, dolphins, birds, elephants, and great apes. But reports of wild dogs displaying grief-like behaviors are scarce, as are documented scientific evidence of pet dogs mourning.
Despite their positive findings, the study had several limitations, meaning we can't say for sure whether dogs mourn the loss of other dogs.
In the study, the authors write that the definition of grief in dogs is not well defined. Dogs in the study may also have been responding to their parents' emotions, as dogs whose owners experienced greater levels of suffering, psychological trauma, and anger were more fearful and ate less.
How human subjects perceived and reported dogs' behaviors was also subjective. Evidence also shows that dogs may react with frustration or anxiety to changes in their routine.
Yet regardless of these possibly complicating factors, Pirrone told The Guardian that their study sheds light on a potential aspect of pet welfare that deserves more attention.
"Dogs are highly emotional animals who develop very close bonds with the members of the familiar group," she said. "This means that they may be highly distressed if one of them dies and efforts should be made to help them cope with this distress."