Why Losing a Dog Is So Painful, According to a Psychologist
Pup parents know that the fur balls that share our beds, our hearts, and sometimes our dinners, are never “just a dog.”
From beginning to end, owning a dog is a life-changing experience. It doesn’t matter if your canine has been by your side since puppyhood (and you have the upholstery to prove it) or joined your family later in life—there are no words for the bond that forms between a dog and its humans. It has to be lived.
Unfortunately, a dog’s life is fleeting. (That might be what makes them so precious.) For every birthday we celebrate, they celebrate seven, which means we’re lucky to see them live to wag their tails into their teens.
Saying goodbye is an expected part of dog ownership, but that doesn’t make it easy. Research from psychologist John Archer confirmed that for most people, “the loss of a dog is, in almost every way, comparable to the loss of a human loved one.” The pups that share our beds, our hearts, and sometimes our dinners, are never “just a dog,” yet for some reason, that’s what we tell ourselves when they die, burying our grief like a precious bone. Perhaps if we understood why a dog’s passing hurts so much, we’d find it easier to deal with the pain.
As psychologist Julie Axelrod has pointed out, the loss of a dog is so painful because owners aren’t just losing the pet. “It could mean the loss of a source of unconditional love, a primary companion who provides security and comfort, and maybe even a protégé that’s been mentored like a child,” she writes for Psych Central.
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“The loss of a dog can also seriously disrupt an owner’s daily routine more profoundly than the loss of most friends and relatives. For owners, their daily schedules—even their vacation plans—can revolve around the needs of their pets,” Axelrod continues. “Changes in lifestyle and routine are some of the primary sources of stress.”
Dog owners often report feeling a “something missing” in their lives after the passing of their canine, often leading them to bring a new pup home quickly. But experts warn against confusing this kind of quick turnaround with indifference. No matter how you look at it, the death of a dog is a catastrophic event, and it should be treated that way.