Dogs and suicide? This is a post I never expected to write. Believe it or not, there are many cases of dogs doing things that led to their death, which have led people to question whether it was on purpose or not.
Can dogs become suicidal?
Most experts agree that dogs cannot commit suicide. They are not aware of their consciousness in the way humans are. They are driven by instinct. Suicide is not something they are capable of. However, some people disagree.
There have been cases throughout history that have appeared to be canine suicide. Let’s unpack this more.
Dog Suicide Bridge
There is a famous bridge in Scotland dubbed the “Dog Suicide Bridge.” Since the 1960’s between 300-600 dogs have jumped off the Overtoun Bridge in Scotland to meet their death.
They use the word “jump” and not “fallen” because it happens so often. People who have witnessed it report that the dogs freeze up on the bridge and stop moving. They then proceed to walk or stumble over the edge.
I wasn’t there to witness this, and neither were you. I don’t think this story should be ignored, but I also don’t think it proves that dogs can commit suicide. It’s definitely interesting and strange!
There is an infinite number of other stories about dogs putting themselves in harm’s way, for one reason or another.
Why Dogs Cannot Commit Suicide
First, let’s establish a definition of suicide:
plural noun: suicides
- the act of killing oneself intentionally.
- “He committed suicide at the age of forty.”
The keyword here is “intentionally.” For an action to count as a suicide, death must be the intentional outcome. For example, if a small child jumped from a balcony, the action would not be considered suicide because the child did not understand death. While their actions resulted in their death, their intention was not to die because they cannot conceptualize death yet. Dying was not their intention. Therefore it was not a suicide.
According to Dr. Stanley Coren in Psychology Today, dogs have the mental capacity of a 2-3-year-old human child. He explains that since human children have no understanding of life and death at that age, neither do dogs, making it impossible for dogs to intentionally choose death over life.
If dogs have no conception of death, they cannot intentionally choose to die. By that definition, dogs can’t commit suicide.
But if it isn’t suicide, then why would a dog throw itself off a balcony or bridge? Or refuse to eat and slowly waste away?
If not that, then… why?
Many people might consider suicidal behavior in dogs that can actually be explained as a side effect of depression, a prey drive, or another natural behavior misinterpreted through human eyes.
Let’s look at each case study:
Depression in Dogs When Owner Dies
Dogs can and do experience depression. There could be many causes, but the most well-known causes for depression in dogs include the death of their owner or dog partner.
Sometimes, when the owner dies, dogs will display symptoms of depression, such as losing interest in activities they used to enjoy, sleeping more often, and refusing to eat.
There are well-documented cases of dogs that refuse to eat after their owner dies. They slowly starve themselves until they become malnourished, develop health complications, and die. This is the result of depression/grief, not sucide.
Depression in Dogs From Major Life Changes
Depression in dogs is often caused by major life changes, such as losing their owner or another dog they were close to.
It can also be induced by stress from stressful situations. Moving and completely changing your dog’s environment, or bringing in new people or animals, could all be causes of stress for a dog.
Depression can be from underdlying medical conditions. This is especially true if they have a condition affection their hormone production.
While it can’t be proven for certain, depression could also help account for some of the more dramatic deaths.
Depression in Dogs Being Left Alone Too Long
Many dogs have been reported to jump off their balconies in Italy after being left alone for too long. This is a common occurrence in certain parts of Italy when families travel for long vacations. They may provide food, water, and a pet sitter to take them outside, but dogs can still become depressed.
The dogs had no understanding that their owners would ever return. If they’re left for weeks while their owners go on vacation, this would count as both a major life change and a loss for the dog.
For all they know, their owners might never return. This could cause the dog to experience extreme stress and symptoms of depression.
Perhaps, as a way to alleviate the stress of being left alone and losing their owners, the dogs attempted to escape the stress by jumping and accidentally caused their own death.
Did Prey Drive Cause Them To Jump?
Maybe the dogs in Italy saw a prey animal just out of reach. This is what some hypothesize caused the dog jumping in Scotland at the Overtoun Bridge.
Many of the locals to the Overtoun Bridge in Scotland believe that ghosts and supernatural phenemonon is involved. While I do believe in the spiritual realm, I do not believe this.
The locals that refuse to believe the spiritual explanation believe that the dogs that jumped experienced their prey instinct. Meaning they saw a small animal or something that they were trying to chase.
Mink, mice, and squirrels have been found in the woods surrounding the bridge. Dogs have a heightened sense of hearing and smell. Perhaps they sensed something irresistible just out of sight that human ears and eyes couldn’t see.
Perhaps the bridge doesn’t seem as high as it really is and the dogs didn’t have good depth-perception to know they were in a dangerous situation.
It stands to reason that some dogs, especially dogs bred to hunt, could accidentally follow their nose into a situation that causes them harm.
Why do humans assume it’s suicide?
Even though dogs can’t commit suicide, humans continue to project that motivation onto dogs who exhibit behaviors closely resemble human suicide. This is because we as humans have a bad habit of attributing human actions, motivations, and characteristics to animals. This is known as:
- the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.
We’re all guilty of it from time to time. We treat our dog like a little person and a member of the family. Maybe even go so far as to give them a voice and predict what they might say, sometimes with hilarious results.
When we spend so much time living with dogs, it can be easy to project our thoughts and emotions onto them. We humanize them. Which isn’t wrong in and of itself, but causes us to come to wrong conclusions about our dogs.
One example of this is the “guilty face.” When we get onto our dogs for doing something wrong, we assume that they are expressing guilt by lowering their head and ears, tucking their tail, and refusing to look at us.
Are they expressing emotion when they do this? I tend to think so, but animal behaviorists tell us differently.
They say that dogs hear the anger in our voices and take on a submissive stance to calm us down and keep us from getting angrier.
We shouldn’t assume that it’s suicide just because it looks like a suicide to human eyes.
So, can dogs become suicidal? Hopefully, this post has given you enough information to realize that dogs don’t commit suicide. To summarize: dogs can’t conceptualize death, so they can’t choose to die = not suicide.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!