Can a dog become depressed if his owner develops clinical depression? I posed this question to Mary Remer, CPDT-KA (certified professional dog trainer-knowledge assessed), breeder and licensed AKC judge, having trained more than 20,000 dogs in her 30-year career. She’s founder of What a Good Dog, a dog training and behavioral facility.
Assume that other people may be present in the household but don’t have depression; just one person in the household does. Remer says yes, the dog can become depressed.
If this seems to have occurred in your household, what can be done about it? Remer explains, “A solution would be to encourage the dog to have an active relationship with other members of the family, i.e., increase exercise, teach new behaviors/tricks, go for rides in the car, make play dates with other dogs, etc. Try to build more fun into their day.”
Dogs are thinking, feeling animals with a lot of intelligence. They can be quite intuitive. Remember, they are hardwired to be part of a pack order. In order to be an integral part of a pack order, an animal needs to have intelligence and the capacity for emotion and even some empathy. I witnessed my parents’ German shepherd become subdued at some point following my mother’s decent into clinical depression. He knew something was amiss, and internalized the depression somewhat. He just wasn’t as peppy as he normally was, and wasn’t as eager to play outdoors.
Remer adds, “Dogs are very reflective of the emotional energy in the household. When there is a strong attachment to a person dealing with depression, the dog will carry the burden and be reflective of it.”
It’s absolutely critical for other members of the household to interact more with their pet, as well as give it more exercise than usual. Teaching new behaviors, as Remer suggests, will help stimulate the dog’s brain and distract the animal from feeling downtrodden or internalizing the family member’s depression.
Think of activities you’ve never done with your dog, such as take it on a hike or throw a Frisbee for it to chase after. Don’t assume your pet is too depressed to try new activities. New activities are just what the doctor ordered and can help alleviate a dog’s depression. Perhaps you can introduce your down-beat dog to swimming, or see what it does when you turn on a water hose on a hot day.