Frank T. McAndrew wrote about why losing your dog can be so much more painful than losing a relative or a friend.
When people who have never had a dog see their dog-owning friends mourn the loss of a pet, they probably think it’s all a bit of an overreaction; after all, it’s “just a dog.”
However, those who have loved a dog know the truth: Your own pet is never “just a dog.”
Many times, I’ve had friends guiltily confide to me that they grieved more over the loss of a dog than over the loss of friends or relatives. Research has confirmed that for most people, the loss of a dog is, in almost every way, comparable to the loss of a human loved one. Unfortunately, there’s little in our cultural playbook – no grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper, no religious service – to help us get through the loss of a pet, which can make us feel more than a bit embarrassed to show too much public grief over our dead dogs.
This is very true. These strong feelings are something that perhaps only dog lovers know because they are reluctant to say so to others since it might seem wrong to mourn the loss of a pet more than that of a human being. So they tend to reveal the full extent of their grief only to others who will understand.
Dogs entered my life only in adulthood when my children asked for one and I have had just two, including the current member of the family Baxter the Wonder Dog. I have reached an age where many family members and friends have died. I have mourned those losses but the death of my first dog Copper caused me a lot more grief than the deaths of many other people and it took me a long time to recover from it. The idea that Baxter the Wonder Dog will some day also die is so difficult for me to deal with that I shut it out of my mind.
McAndrew looks at why our bond with dogs is so strong.
This is no accident. They have been selectively bred through generations to pay attention to people, and MRI scans show that dog brains respond to praise from their owners just as strongly as they do to food (and for some dogs, praise is an even more effective incentive than food). Dogs recognize people and can learn to interpret human emotional states from facial expression alone. Scientific studies also indicate that dogs can understand human intentions, try to help their owners and even avoid people who don’t cooperate with their owners or treat them well.
One passage amused me greatly.
Our strong attachment to dogs was subtly revealed in a recent study of “misnaming.” Misnaming happens when you call someone by the wrong name, like when parents mistakenly calls one of their kids by a sibling’s name. It turns out that the name of the family dog also gets confused with human family members, indicating that the dog’s name is being pulled from the same cognitive pool that contains other members of the family. (Curiously, the same thing rarely happens with cat names.)
It’s no wonder dog owners miss them so much when they’re gone.
By coincidence, I came across this article just after returning from spending ten days with my new grandson. During that visit, on several occasions, I referred to my grandson as ‘Baxter’, much to the amusement of the people present. When I read this article, I clipped the above passage and sent it to them to show that my mistake was not entirely due to me losing my marbles.