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Dogs Can Help People Through the Grieving Process: Research

A woman holding a dog as they both look out a window

Pets can bring joy and positivity into your life in many ways – from improving the quality of your sleep to making you a healthier person – but did you know that dogs, in particular, can help you work through grief?

According to CNNresearch suggests that dogs have a positive impact on people’s lives, especially when they’re working through the mourning process.

Related: Dogs may tear up (with joy) when reunited with owners: research

Colleen Dell, research chair in One Health and Wellness and a University of Saskatchewan professor, conducted a study in March that revealed that time with a dog can actually be medicinal. In fact, spending just 10 minutes with a dog reduced patients’ pain.

While mourning is a difficult process and often changes vastly from person to person, dogs can offer intuitive, unconditional love in the face of grief, according to Dell.

A puppy in bed holding a person's finger

“We don’t give them the credit that’s due,” Dell explains. “We don’t understand them to the extent that we should. When you start to pull it apart, there’s just so much going on there.”

Jackie Naginey Hook, a celebrant and end-of-life doula, adds that a person’s needs when mourning are quite nuanced, and often what they need is company, physical contact and someone to listen to them.

“Healthy healing is really about giving yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling,” Hook adds. “Our bodies know how to heal from a cut, and we know how to deal with this, too.”

Since dogs don’t hold any judgements, they can be the perfect companion through mourning. In fact, Dell reveals that if someone develops a deep relationship with a dog, the pet can even intuit their owner’s emotions. That’s why a dog may offer up a cuddle when you’re grieving.

See also: Must love dogs? How to date someone who isn’t a ‘pet person.’ 


A dog is also a great way to encourage someone who’s mourning to go out for a walk or play a game of fetch, even when it’s tough to do so.

“Getting up and going on a walk when you are grieving is incredibly difficult,” Dell says. “They are really good at living in the moment. That takes us away from thinking in the past or even too much in the future.”

While a dog can definitely have a positive impact on your life, it’s important to note that – in the face of grief – it may not be the right time to get a brand-new dog. If you’re not ready for the responsibility, that’s OK. Dell says that a neighbour or family member’s pet can still offer the love you need through grief or mourning.

You may also like: My story: I can’t stop grieving my dog, and that’s OK

If you do feel ready to bring a new furry friend into your life, it’s important to be able to find the right match in a pup and to be ready for a long-term commitment. People who are grieving can have lower patience levels, according to Dell, which means you should consider avoiding adopting a puppy and look at adopting an older, trained dog.

Dell explains that dogs can even become available through foster care after their owner passes away. “What a beautiful thing that would be,” she says. “You’d really be helping each other.”

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