October 12, 2013

Canines capable of grief over death

Dear Dog Lady,

Recently, my dog Red, a Staffordshire bull terrier, passed away, and my other dog Spike, a British bulldog, started to act differently. Spike always seemed to view Red as the patriarchal figure and, with his passing, Spike became more subdued and mellow. Do you think this was a result of a general change in his personality caused by something chemical or hormonal? Or is it something deeper, something more profound? Does Spike feel more complex emotions of love and grief? To what extent do you believe Spike, and dogs as a whole, can feel the same range of emotions as we as human beings can feel? —Josh

A: Our dogs are magically complex creatures. They defy us to understand them. Such is their mysterious power and allure. This much we know: They love unconditionally. They feel psychic pain. They are deeply attached to family — both canine and human. They grieve. They experience joy. They thrive on encouragement and praise.

Take your dog to a veterinarian to rule out any physical hurts or diseases. But Dog Lady believes you are witnessing Spike’s emotional reaction to Red’s death. If Red was the Alpha dog in the relationship, the Staffordshire obviously set much of the daily agenda for Spike. Now that his pup leader is gone, Spike must be feeling lost and confused. Make sure you spend quality time with him. Get Spike out and about, walking, socializing and frolicking with other dogs. The fresh air, invigorating butt sniffs and exercise will do much to ease Spike’s ennui and help him realize life goes on — as only dogs can experience that eternal truth in the moment.

Dear Dog Lady,

First, let me just say that I discovered your column in the newspaper about two years ago when I was visiting my parents, and I always look forward to reading it online. I had to laugh to myself when I read your latest. I am 25 years old and have had several boyfriends over the years. However, none of them ever got the dog thing. My three golden retrievers are my life. They are my kids and my friends. I am in despair of ever finding a decent man who, besides possessing the basic requirements (intelligence, sense of humor, etc.), loves dogs like I do. Anyway, I wanted you to know how much I enjoyed your column. When you answer questions about dogs and dating, I feel some hope. —Mandy

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