Do Dogs Understand Death?

Share Button

If you follow us on Facebook, you know that a few weeks ago my sister’s dog Tally passed away. She was diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma about 4 months ago. She initially had surgery to remove a large tumor in her abdomen and then was treated conservatively. She had a few months relatively “normal” and then started fading fairly quickly a few weeks ago. My sister and her husband made the agonizing decision to let her go.

We’ve posted about Tally and her rescue before in a two part series (Part 1, Part 2) authored by my sister. They rescued her from the streets of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico into the lap of luxury, first in Bethesda, MD and then Rancho Santa Fe, CA just up the coast from where she was born. But this post isn’t about Tally, it’s about her sister Taj. We’ve posted about Taj as well. She’s a thoroughbred – AKC registered, field champion Weimeraner who spent many hours in the field with her dad hunting.

Taj was the big sister to Tally – about 6 years older than her. Like most sister’s they had their spats, – turf wars, attention grabs, etc. but also lots of fun walks, hikes and games together. As they both grew older, they settled into a detente with each of them understanding their place and role in the family.
Tally, as the ‘baby’ was more attached to mom (my sister) and followed her around most of the time. Out on the patio, into the studio, into the office. She would usually seek Anne out and find a cozy spot to nap nearby. Taj was more independent and would spend her time in assorted favorite spots in the house or out in the pool or sunning on the patio. They would walk together each day and certainly play with each other in the yard, but “besties”…not so much. But that’s okay, our Jack and Maggie barely acknowledge each other! The closest they come to recognizing there is another dog in the household is when Jack licks her bowl clean after meals or when Maggie sneaks in and steals Jack’s carrot.
Tally’s been gone for a few weeks now and my sister has seen a marked change in Taj’s behavior. She’s the one following Anne around now – out on the patio, into the studio, into the office, etc. Where Anne goes, so does Taj. Anne says she also seems to be a little less stressed, a little calmer. Is it because there’s no competition for attention or affection? Or is it just another sign of Taj’s aging – she is twelve after all.
It made me think back on our dog’s behavior when we lost one of our pack. Tino was very aware when our neighbor’s dog was sick and passed away, but when Sally died, I don’t remember much change in his behavior. Of course he was much older then – about 13 and in the early stages of dementia, so he may not have noticed. I also don’t recall much change in Becca’s behavior when Tino died, or Jack’s when Becca passed. I wonder if it may be that none of them were really bonded to each other – our dogs all seem to be like ships passing in the night – they know the other dog is there, but there’s not really any interaction. Since they were all seniors when they came to us, maybe it’s a senior thing?
How about you – if you’ve lost a pet, did you notice a change in your other pet’s behavior?

Share Button


  1. Mom says when Trine passed away, Katie spent a good month searching for her all the time, everywhere they went. She is pretty sure losing Katie will be hard on me too. We seem to understand something is wrong with her as she hasn’t participated in family stuff for a while now. Sometimes I walk with her, but she pretty much keeps to herself or goes out with Mom alone. It will be a tough time for us all I think. So sorry about your sister’s dog.
    Emma recently posted…Leaping for Leap DayMy Profile

    • I think the longer time they spend together the harder it becomes. Katie’s is a tough old girl who’s lived a pretty “cosmopolitan” life.
      mkob recently posted…Do Dogs Understand Death?My Profile

  2. we noticed that after we lost our Frosty. Chipie was nervous and slept next to the door, waiting that he comes back. She refused to eat and became lethargic, so we drove to the vet. It was the same who had to pts Frosty. The moment Chipie entered the treatment room she knew that her friend is dead… and from that moment she gave up somehow and we lost her after 5 weeks too… The vet said it was chronic kidney failure, but I know it had something to do with the dead of her friend… they were inseparable for 13 years… and now forever…
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog MISCHIEF MOANDAYMy Profile

    • That must have been difficult to lose two so close together. I guess you can take comfort that they are still together.
      mkob recently posted…Do Dogs Understand Death?My Profile

  3. Not sure dogs ‘understand’ death the same way that us uprights do but believe they definitely grieve the loss of a companion pet. Sam mourned for about 6 months after Puck, our OES passed away that he was extremely attached other and to this day, becomes extra excited whenever he sees one in our neighborhood. The attachment now to your sister could be Taj feels the need to comfort her with the loss. Dogs seem to know when we ‘need’ them. Thoughts of comfort flowing toward your family as they all navigate the loss of a family member.

  4. I held on to my first family dog’s collar after his death. If I moved the collar, our second dog would come running into the room looking for him. Who knows what dogs might understand about death, but they certainly understand absence/loss.

  5. Yes – I believe they do. When Leo passed, I picked Harley up and cradled him in my arms as I cried over Leo. Harley took his paw and poked Leo a few times then bent over and smelled his snout. Immediately – he pressed his two front paws on Leo’s body and aggressively pushed away from Leo. He wiggled and squirmed until I put him down. Yes – I believe they do.

  6. When I was in high school, our cockapoo passed from cancer. My cat was only about 3 years younger than him, and we all noticed immediately that my cat began sitting/lying in all of the cockapoo’s old “spots”, like he knew he was now the oldest in the pack.

  7. I have o doubt that our pets know when their “siblings” pass away. I’ve seen two examples of it with mine. My German Shepherd and tabby cat were inseparable throughout their lives. When we had to say goodbye to our dog, the cat went into a deep depression. Two weeks later I had to make the same horrendous decision with her. She couldn’t stand up and walk. The vet said it was a stroke, but I believe it was a broken heart. When we had to take Tucker our Golden a couple of years ago, Bentley was very depressed. He didn’t perk up until my daughter brought Pierre over That is why we still have Pierre. ☺
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…BFTB NETWoof News February 29, 2016 #Dog NewsMy Profile

  8. I know that when my female (newly adopted) had an unexpected litter of 2, one was born very sickly. I think I cried when the mommy put the baby in her mouth and howled. Obviously, the mommy knew her baby was very sick and could do nothing about it. As the statements above, I think dogs’ experiences with death (and even illness) depend on the bond.

    • I’ve never had dogs that were really close or bonded, so I’ve never experienced it, but I agree – they definitely know.
      mkob recently posted…Do Dogs Understand Death?My Profile

  9. When Kobi passed, the other 3 all did OK. But he was always independent of them since he was older. When our golden Moses passed, his sister/littermate Sheba did stick closer to me for a couple of weeks but nothing significant.
    When our Lab mix Maggie died, Kobi was our only other dog at the time, and he took it HARD. He looked for her outside all the time, and the first time we had to leave him alone he was a mess. We had our neighbors care for him after that until we could find another dog (no doggie daycares in those days), because we could not leave him alone. He and Maggie were very bonded, but I wonder if that was more because there was just the two of them? We’ve had 3 or more ever since then and I wonder if that’s why they’ve taken it better.
    Jan K recently posted…Thick as ThievesMy Profile

    • Probably a little easier as there was always another pack member. I think if Jack goes before Maggie (not that I expect that) she will take a little harder than him.
      mkob recently posted…Do Dogs Understand Death?My Profile

  10. It is so comforting to hear all these stories – I believe that Taj misses Tally deeply – and while they weren’t super close, i.e.sleeping intertwined, they were together everyday all day for 7 years. I wonder about their hidden dog language and how Taj might miss that interaction.

    Taj has reverted to other behaviors she had before we had Tally – things like refusing to go outside alone, and refusing to lay on her bed across the room – all dog beds need to be right next to us, at our feet.

    The most heartbreaking thing though is after every meal, Taj will walk to around the kitchen island to where Tally’s bowls were – looking for them and her, as she always did.

    Tally has been gone a month now – and it’s about time we head back to the vet with Taj to check on her thyroid cancer. Fingers crossed and prayers being said that all will remain fine with no metastasis. Taj turns 13 in a month – which is pretty old for a Weimaraner – but I do believe that she has a strong life force in her and will live her remaining time with us filling her with love and comfort – giving back to her all the joy she brought to us.

    Sending dog love to all

    • Good luck at the vet – let us know. I bet Jack will do that too – go out to look for Maggie’s bowl… 🙁
      mkob recently posted…Do Dogs Understand Death?My Profile

  11. Sorry for your sisters loss, I didn’t see that. No one seemed to mind or know that Norman was gone except me. 🙁
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Hello World Let’s Get This Day GoingMy Profile

  12. My first two dogs were litter mates who had a very contentious life together. When Christie died, Agatha flourished into a much more relaxed and calm dog.

    It made me feel terrible for keeping the two of them together so long when it was obviously a stressor.
    Pamela recently posted…Doesn’t Your Dog Jump Off The Boat?My Profile

  13. I think that dogs understand death. We made a mistake one time, bringing our 6 month old puppy with us when we had to let our elderly dog go. Our puppy was truly traumatized. She’d been pretty mellow and normal until that point. As soon as we arrived home after euthanizing our elderly dog, our puppy had a whole bunch of new phobias. A few of them stuck with her for the rest of her life, even though she was basically an even-tempered Lab. I think she understood that our older dog had died but it was too much for her young soul to deal with.
    KB recently posted…A Day on the MountainMy Profile

  14. I doubt that dogs “understand” death the way we humans do; but I do believe they feel loss, especially if they were closely bonded to the one that died. Callie’s been in Heaven for over six months now, but Shadow still looks for her at times. And there are times when she will purposely get up from wherever she is and go lay down in one of Callie’s favorite spots.

    I missed the news of your sister’s pooch. I’m sorry to read of it now. My deepest sympathies to all of you.

    When we were all in the exam room that morning, saying goodbye to Callie, I mentioned to the vet that I was a bit concerned about how the loss of Callie might effect Shadow and Ducky. He said “most dogs do go through a change of some sort when a canine companion dies. In Ducky’s case, I think it will be a change for the better. A maturation process if you will. Shadow will mourn for her sister visibly, but she will be okay. Just give her time and try to keep your routine as normal as possible.” He was right on both counts. Ducky seemed to “grow up” almost overnight; and Shadow mourned visibly – right along with me – for a while. And we both still do at times. While Ducky’s and Shadow’s relationship will never be as close as Callie’s and Shadow’s was, at least they get along much better now. I think Ducky still misses Callie to some extent – she sometimes tries to hump Shadow the same way she did Callie but quickly backs off – but she has her daycare friends to play with too so it’s not as hard on her.
    Callie, Shadow, and Ducky’s Mom recently posted…This Is What HappensMy Profile

Comments are now closed on this post.