How Dogs React When Their Humans Break Up

Black and white dog

When a relationship ends, there are logistical things you have to take care of: making sure your ex gets their stuff back, canceling all the joint plans that need canceling, spreading the word of your split to anyone who might care. If you live together, there’s furniture to consider, and the question of who has to move. If it’s ugly, there’s the drafting of friends, and the drawing of turn lines around your city.

And then there’s the dog. If the two of you got your canine pal together, there’s the question of who becomes the single dog parent (unless you opt to keep sharing). And even if the dog was just yours, and the relationship was a pretty casual one, the fact remains that you’re not the only one losing someone from your life — in a way, it’s a breakup for the dog, too. It’s fair to assume that an animal so seemingly tuned in to our emotional needs, and so easily able to form loving bonds with people, would feel the sting of that loss; do a quick Google search, and you’ll find an abundance of articles advising pet owners on how their dogs may cope.

And in the aftermath of the split, your dog really may seem different — mopier, or angrier, or just a little confused. But here’s a key difference: They may be grieving along with you, but they’re grieving something else entirely.

For one thing, it’s likely that dogs don’t exactly grasp the concept of finality. You know your ex isn’t going to walk back in through the door any time soon, but your pup doesn’t. “They may over time start to realize that the person hasn’t been around as much, but I don’t know that they would ever have the sort of conscious realization of, ‘Oh, I guess Joe’s never coming back,’” says Angie Johnson, a graduate student researcher at Yale’s Canine Cognition Lab.

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