If you’re the proud parent of a furry friend, you might be able to understand how suffering the loss of a beloved pet can hit you harder than the loss of a friend or a family member. When you lose a dog, you feel that deep sense of pain, like you’ve lost member of your family. When those who aren’t pet owners see their friends mourning the loss of a dog, they might see it as an overreaction. It’s just a dog, right?

The truth is, everyone who has ever loved a pet knows that it’s never “just a dog.”

The Science Behind It

Research has found that for most people, the loss of a dog is comparable to the loss of a human loved one in almost every way. While grief is to be expected after a loved one passes, pet owners can feel slightly embarrassed about showing too much grief over their dead dog.

We have religious services, family gatherings, funerals and other ways of dealing with the grief after a loved one leaves us. But there’s nothing put in place to help you get over the loss of a pet. If more people understood just how strong the bond is between people and their pets, public grief over losing a dog might become more widely accepted. This could help pet owners be comfortable allowing themselves to grieve, in order to help them move forward.

Why Is Our Bond So Strong?

There are several theories concerning the bond between humans and dogs. One theory points out that dogs have had to adapt to living with humans, and they’ve adapted extremely well. Anthropologist Brian Hare developed a theory called the “Domestication Hypothesis” to help explain how dogs morphed from their grey wolf ancestors. He notes that dogs have morphed into extremely socially skilled animals that we now interact with in the same way we interact with other people. (Let’s admit it, we all talk to our dogs.)

Another reason out relationships with dogs are so intense is because our dogs provide us with unconditional love. Even after you yell at them for tracking dirt into the house, they’re perfectly willing to give you a big, slobbery kiss. When you come home from work, they’re at the door lighting fast to say hello, their tail wagging all over the place. While human bonds can waver, the love you and your dog have for each other never falters.

It Turns Out, Your Pooch Is Pretty Smart

In case those theories weren’t convincing enough, MRI scans have shown that dog brains respond to praise from their owners just as strongly as they do to food. Dogs are able to recognize people and interpret human emotional states, from facial expressions alone! Research also indicates that dogs can even understand human intentions. They try to help their owners and they also tend to avoid people who don’t cooperate with their owners or treat them well.

We as humans respond positively to our pets, thanks to their affection and unquestionable loyalty. I mean, have you ever seen a puppy and not smiled? It’s no secret that having a dog in your life can bring a little more joy into your home, for both you and your furry friend. In fact, studies show that dog owners are happier on average, than people who own cats or no pets at all.

IFL Science
Evolution and Human Behavior
Brian Hare
Psychology Today
Sage Journals
Psychology Today