Do Dogs Truly Mourn at the Loss of Another Dog?


When we lost our dog, Ethel quite suddenly as a result of hemangiosarcoma (a kind of blood cancer) in December 2019, we were concerned about our surviving dog named Hazel.

A Chihuahua/Terrier-mix, Hazel was about a year old when she came into our lives. And she instantly bonded with Ethel. It’s as if the two dogs were attached at the hip. People seriously thought I photoshopped image after image of them snuggling up to one another. It was mostly Hazel who did the snuggling, Ethel, though, appeared to enjoy the intimate attention.

When Ethel breathed her last breath, Hazel was in the room. What did she know or not know? She does know she never saw her best pal again. But did she cognitively realize this fact?

I do believe that since Ethel passed, she developed increased separation anxiety and instead of snuggling with our other dog, she found herself in the back of my chair or my wife’s chair – just so she could be as close as possible to either one of us.

While there have been behavior changes after Ethel’s passing, did she actually mourn her?

We have yet to get another dog – but when we do, will Hazel have the same relationship she had with Ethel? I suggest it’s not likely – which means so much was about Ethel.

Absolutely, for a very long time – like centuries, people have reported stories of dogs mourning people lost, and also other dogs. It’s not surprising as dogs bond with us and one another, and are as social as we are and arguably more loyal. However, there hasn’t been much science until now.

The Science: Do Dogs Mourn?

A new paper just published in Scientific Reports with a team of international investigators confirms that along with many bird species, primates, whales, dolphins and elephants, domestic dogs likely can grieve the loss of a family dog. And incidentally, this turns out to be another difference between dogs and wolves as wolves rarely are reported to express this emotion at the loss of a pack member.

According to the study most dogs did express behavior changes, only 13.4 percent observed no difference in their surviving dog after a family dog passed. No surprise, dogs with more bonded relationships expressed more changes following the loss.

Several negative behavioral changes were commonly reported in the surviving dog after the death of the other dog: attention seeking increased 67 percent; playing less at 57 percent; level of activity was reduced by 46 percent; sleeping more reported 35 percent; fearfulness increased in 35 percent; eating less 32 percent and vocalization increased by 30 percent.

While this study confirms absolute changes in behavior researchers, of course, can’t ask dogs how they’re feeling. At one point in time, experts seeing the results of this study would have suggested that the dogs are only responding to changes in the household and not their feelings. And the word feelings would be in quotes (“feelings”) because anything approaching a human feeling wasn’t attributed to dogs. Today, we know better.

Still, could some of these behaviors still be a result of changes in the household? Also, we are sad when a dog passes; so are these surviving dogs merely picking up on our cues and/or responded to how we feel? Of course, we don’t know all the answers, but this study is a good start and confirms what so many of us assumed.