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Monday, April 12, 2010

Mourning in dogs

A wonderful eleven year-old Shih Tzu, owned by a very close family member, was struck recently by a car and killed. She left behind a mourning human couple and a lovely canine companion.
Her owner was reasonably, and rightfully concerned about how the living dog would fare after her companion's death. "I don't know," I replied honestly. "We'll have to see."
After more than three weeks since the accident, the surviving Shih Tzu has shown absolutely not a shred of evidence that she is missing her departed canine companion. It's paradoxically sad to report that she continues to thrive in the other's absence (obviously we don't want her to suffer, we just want or expect her to be "missing" the other dog).
Certainly, this is not the case for every dog who suffers the loss of a companion. According to a study done by the SPCA in the late nineties, nearly seventy percent of dogs manifest symptoms in cases like this: inappetence and lethargy are the most common. Are these dogs reacting to a change in their routine or are they literally depressed? I hate to anthropomorphosize but such prolonged symptoms in a person would be consistent with depression.
Wolves, our beloved pets' ancestors, mourn the loss of other wolves in many ways, such as vocalizing, refusing to eat, and futile searches for the deceased (I tried to find more on mourning in wolves but alas could not, so feel free to chime in, experts).
This post was introduced with direct, anecdotal evidence that not all dogs will mourn the loss of a companion. The status of both dogs must surely be taken into account, given that the surviving dog's status may change after the death of a companion. The consequent behavior of the owner(s) who lost the pet will also affect the behavior of the surviving dog.
I'd love to hear your personal stories.

Used with permission, taken from Beverley and Pack's photostream on Flickr.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Whoa, this is interesting:

A recent study by Ottawa researchers showed that people who live alone and have a dog do not feel less lonely than those without dogs. This contradicts a long-held myth that our canine companions offer an escape from our solitude. People with dogs and a lack of a good social circle did not feel less lonely than those living similarly and without a canine friend. You can read the entire article HERE but I just had to quote a paragraph from the Montreal Gazette article:

People with limited community connections, for example, were more likely to humanize their dog - and those who engaged in this type of anthropomorphism were more depressed, visited the doctor more often and took more medications. Pychyl [author of the study] suggests this is because people who treat their pets like family will go out of their way to nurture the relationship, often at the expense of their personal lives.


This undermines the notion that lonely or depressed people should have dogs. The greater picture is a need for us to connect with those around us of the same species: Homo sapiens. Anthropomorphic behaviour includes, but not limited to: walking dogs in strollers, calling our pets "little people" or our "children," and yoga for dogs, to name just a few. Anthropomorphic behaviour is dangerous: for the dogs, for the cats in crazy-cat-lady-homes, and for us (including the crazy cat lady). They'll be no political correctness here.


Psychological health and a strong feeling of community must involve, at least in great part, playing this game.