Dog friendship is something real – well, friendship is what we call it, for them it might be something more complicated (or less complicated), but dogs seem to make best friends with other dogs.
Of my three dogs, only one, Apollo, makes friends. I have absolutely no idea how he chooses them, and despite the urban legend of male dogs not getting along, Apollo only makes friends with males. His bff is Markos, a tiny French Bulldog. Every time we pass by his house Apollo stays gazing at the closed door and crying, and if we meet him on the street he runs to him barking, all ecstatic and enthusiastic, and then does the “happy dance” around his friend.
The reason why dogs automatically like some dogs while they hate others might have to do with a variety of reasons, like a past experience (Apollo loathes German Shepherds. I have no idea why, but I am guessing he had been attacked by one in the past, while he was living as a stray), you (maybe he is being protective of you, maybe you tend to sympathize with some breeds more, and your reaction when meeting them affects your dog too), or just something about the other dog’s body language and smell, that your dogs simply likes or dislikes.
Apart from typical bffs, with whom dogs prefer to play and hang out with, they sometimes form lifetime friendships (well, at least that’s how we humans interpret all that). Dogs have companion dogs, with whom the like to sleep with, eat with, play with – they constantly seek each other’s company and seem to feel good when they are together.
My beloved Blue for example, who was adopted by a family of eight rescue dogs, found her best friend in one of them: Rincewind. As their mum Karin says, Blue and Rincewind like to do everything together: play, sleep, explore, have fun. Since Blue came to the family, there are few photos of one without the other. It’s like both of them found a soul mate, a companion to love and to hold.
Mourning the loss of a friend
Dogs do mourn the loss of a friend – human or canine. Oliver’s best friend for example was Pinky, a little Jack Russell. They would sleep together, eat together, play together. When Pinky was adopted and left for her new home, Oliver was depressed for about a month. There have been numerous cases of dogs protecting their best friend’s dead body, or trying to make it wake up again, like Buddy, who was rescued by ZEIL, after found grieving over his dead friend who had just been ran over by a car.
Dog’s mourning when losing a loved one has to do a lot with their ignorance of the true meaning of death. They are like five year old children – they don’t realize “forever” and driven by their unhappiness (or motivated by their hope that their loved one might come back), engage in those emotional acts, like licking their dead friends face, staring at their grave or even trying to dig them up.
Mourning may lead to a loss in appetite, lowered water intake, little to none response to humans and other pets, a loss of interest in play or physical activity, and even mournful howls. The symptoms can also increase gradually over weeks or months.
Coping with the loss
Watching a dog mourning and trying to help him overcome his grief is heartbreaking, mainly because there is no way explaining to an animal what death is really about.
If his companion is ill, it would be helpful that the dog is present during euthanasia, or that he at least sees the deceased dog’s body (or owner’s) – it might help the dog understand the process better. Believe it or not, the same thing applies to donkeys, who form lifetime relationships.
A human’s instinct is to console, but a grieving dog might just need patience. If he is reluctant to eat, change his food to something tastier he can’t resist eating and add some more playtime – it will raise his serotonin levels and increase his appetite. Stick to a steady schedule – dogs love their routine. Losing a friend is a big change, so it will help your dog to keep everything else in his life as it was. Some homeopathic remedy might also help.
Just remember: dogs are animals and we should treat them as such, in order to keep them happy. Feeling sorry for your mourning dog and humanizing his grieving will not help him. After the loss of his friend, make sure to keep satisfying his canine needs (exercise, mental stimulation, routine), don’t treat him all that different and most of all, be patient. Patience is key, when dealing with all sorts of dog issues.