Dogs are emotional creatures and they often form strong bonds to their owners, extended family, and other dogs in the household. This, of course, is one of the many benefits of having a dog (or more) as members of your pack. Because of these emotional connections, dogs also experience grief when a loved companion dies.
Symptoms of grief can include lethargy, loss of appetite and weight loss. With the grief comes a depression of the immune system, possibly leaving your dog vulnerable to problems like kennel cough (even if they are vaccinated). Being aware of these symptoms is important and when a loss is experienced, extra care and attention are needed to help the dog manage their grief. Things like extra outings to new parks can help stimulate brain activity and keep the dog happy. Ensuring the dog has a solid routine they can rely on is also very comforting. I have even been called in to give grieving dogs a relaxation massage to provide them extra stimulation and help them feel better.
One of the most ‘celebrated’ cases of a dog’s loyalty to its dead master is the story of Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier owned by John Gray, who worked in Edinburgh, Scotland as a night watchman. In February 1858, John Gray died from tuberculosis and his body was buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard. According to legend, for the next 14 years, Bobby spent most of his time at the grave mourning his master. In 1872, following Bobby’s death, a statue of the dog by William Brodie was erected outside of the gates of the Kirkyard with funds from a local patron.
For more recent stories about dogs who have grieved for their owners, read The phenomenon of grieving dogs.