Occasionally, when I’m scrolling through my social media feeds, a video or picture pops up of a seemingly forlorn dog mourning at the grave of its owner. You’ve seen them too, right? They’re total heart-tuggers and serve as a simple reminder of the unconditional bond between human and dog.
But there is always at least one cynic in the comment section on these posts who claims the emotional moment isn’t what it seems — that dogs don’t grieve the same way humans do and therefore wouldn’t feel any sentimentality or sadness in the situation.
As any animal lover would do, I scoff at this jaded notion. Anyone who has ever enjoyed the company of a dog in their home would have a hard time believing canines are incapable of human-esque sorrow. We’ve seen the big, sad eyes… we know what’s up.
Or do we? Do dogs experience grief the same way we do, or is that an ability we ascribe to them?
Rest easy, ’cause San Francisco-based veterinarian Dr. Sophia Yin told U.S. News that grief is one of the basic emotions dogs experience, just like people. Admittedly, hers isn’t an entirely universal consensus.
Some researchers aren’t 100 percent sold on the idea. “People report that dogs grieve after similar events that might cause grief in humans, such as the loss of a loved one,” Laurie Santos, director of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory and the Canine Cognition Center at Yale, told PawCulture.
“But it’s always hard to know what an animal’s inner emotional life is since they don’t have a language to tell us,” Santos said. “There aren’t many direct studies, in part because it’s hard for scientists to test what a dog’s inner feelings are really like using our normal scientific tools.”
Other researchers do believe that dogs are capable of feeling grief like humans, but that not all dogs do. It makes sense, given that every dog’s personality is unique, just like that of its human.
“It would be fascinating to figure out,” said Gregory Berns, the director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy. “If I were to speculate, I would guess that, like people, some dogs mourn and other’s don’t.”
Although not specific to just dogs, a 2012 study completed by the world’s leading scientists on the subject of animal emotions agrees that animals experience moment-to-moment consciousness like us. And, yes, this consciousness is thought to be very similar to our own.
So if your pup is moping around and you suspect you know why he or she might be sad, you’re probably right. Since you can’t pour your pooch a big glass of pinot and hand them a box of chocolates to battle their blues like you’d do for yourself, go for the next best thing: lots of hugs and kisses.