So, yes, it seems some dogs do have an emotional response to the loss of a beloved human or pet companion. But dogs are also amazingly resilient when it comes to joining a new family. Think of shelter dogs. Can you imagine how much time people would have to spend in therapy if they were suddenly removed from one family and placed with another-in some cases, again and again? Although some newly adopted dogs go through an adjustment period that may include being anxious and destructive when left alone, most bounce back and become happy-go-lucky new family members.
"Love the one you're with," seems to be the motto of many a dog.
For people suffering from depression, studies show that one of the best treatment plans is to get a dog. The companionship, the responsibility, and even the increase in activity required -- because a dog must be walked -- are all good for lifting people out of depression, or preventing it in the first place.
Q. When I leave my dog alone, he destroys things and makes a mess. Is he doing this out of spite?
A. Spite and guilt are not part of a dog's emotional repertoire. Dogs live in the here and now, and revenge is not in their gene pool.
As for barking, chewing, and digging, well, they are natural, normal behaviors, part of every dog's DNA. Dogs who do that stuff are just being dogs. The fact that we'd rather these "job skills" never be trotted out in our homes is just a compatibility issue between canines and humans.
The motives people often attribute to dog behavior just aren't possible. Dogs have no idea a behavior is "bad" until you teach them in terms a canine can clearly understand. So they definitely don't chew because they're mad at you for leaving them; they chew because they're stressed about being alone and chewing is a canine stress reliever. As for the mess . . . well, sometimes a dog just can't hold it any longer. And the stress of separation can make that physical process more urgent.
"Aha!" you say (if you're the sort of person who says "aha!"). "If what you say is true, how come when I come home and find a mess, my dog looks guilty and tries to find a place to hide?" Why indeed?
But look at this situation again, through the dog's eyes. You're a dog, your owner comes home, and you're trotting happily down the hall to meet him when you hear . . . swearing. You pause, uncertain. Then . . . yelling, and you hear your name in the middle of that rant. And you realize: He's angry at me! You have no idea why -- you've long forgotten that you chewed up all his underwear or peed on the rug -- but you're fairly certain the most prudent plan of action would be to take off.
When the guy finds you, he's so angry it scares you, and so you do your best to appease him, dog style. You roll over and show your belly, or maybe you squirt a little urine. A dog would see both efforts as a clear way of saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I don't know what's making you angry but I apologize, anyway." But instead . . . more yelling, and maybe a smack.
A display like this from you, even one time, doesn't teach your dog anything except that you're an unpredictable lunatic who cannot be appeased. Therefore, if you're a dog it's probably best to look humble and hide whenever the boss comes home.