What Happens to Dogs’ Spirits After They Die?

Many people claim to have seen dogs’ spirits after their death, and science may help us explain these occurrences. Here’s what we know.

What Happens to Dogs' Spirits After They Die?
The death of a beloved pet can be an especially difficult loss. Photo: fujicanon

The death of a dog can have just as much of an impact on you as when you lose a human family member or friend.

If you’ve ever had a dog who died, you know the feeling firsthand.

While dogs can’t talk or laugh with you like another person can, they’re loyal beyond words and build memories in their own ways: that silly face they make mid-belly rub, their classic “give me attention” bark and the way they snuggle up under the covers when it’s cold.

Those quirks and traits are what build an incredible bond between dogs and their people.

It’s no wonder the question of afterlife comes up constantly when a dog dies. People, both spiritual and not, wonder whether their dog is happy, comfortable and safe — that is, whether they’ve gone on to the rainbow bridge.

Beyond simply hoping their dog has gone to a better place, though, some people even question whether their pet is still there, in the afterlife, watching over them.

When Dogs’ Spirits Remain

Whether you believe in a higher power or not, it’s hard to argue when countless people claim to have encounters with pets who have died.

Take the story of Hobbes. Hobbes died while Robert and Kathy’s son was away at college, but they waited until he was home to share the sad news about their beloved dog.

When they told him, though, the son looked confused. He’d just petted Hobbes in the hallway.

Or take Barbara, whose dog, Skila, used to go with her to her chiropractor appointments. When Barbara got a call from her chiropractor saying he’d seen Skila running through the hallway — after Skila had died — it was hard to deny the dog’s spiritual presence.

Beyond seeing dogs’ spirits after they’ve died, though, many people have other minor encounters. Some might feel their dog brush against their leg or hear the jingle of their collar coming down the stairs, for example.

What Happens to Dogs' Spirits After They Die?
Science may be able to explain why we can “see” dogs’ spirits or sense our deceased pets long after their deaths. Photo: wiggijo

Dogs’ Spirits: The Scientific Explanation

Of course, for the firm non-believers, the science behind why these encounters happen also offers an interesting angle.

Psychologists John Bowlby and John Archer claim the “reunion theory” has something to do with why people see, hear and sense their deceased dogs.

While many think grief is just an emotional response to the death of a loved one, these psychologists claim it actually evolved from a way to motivate our ancestors to search for someone who was lost — literally.

Thus, based on the reunion theory, grief causes people to search for a lost loved one, even if subconsciously. Because of that, seeing a glimpse of your dog might not actually be that unusual.

Others have added to the reunion theory with their own studies, claiming the “signs” people see are actually “false recognitions.” In a subconscious attempt to find their dead loved ones, even the smallest resemblance of sight, sound or smell might trigger a false recognition.

These recognitions aren’t completely false, though — a sound similar to a dog’s sigh or the jingle of their collar might be entirely real — but because of that internal longing, they’re simply misinterpreted by those who experience them.

Differentiating Between Signs and Science

There’s no way to truly tell whether dogs’ spirits remain after they die. That, of course, begs the question: What do you believe?

Keep reading below. The next section of this article was written by a veterinarian, and I think you’ll appreciate hearing her personal perspective on the topic of pets’ spirits and the afterlife.

Losing a pet can be one of the most difficult experiences when you’re an animal lover. Photo: MichaelinA2

A Vet’s Perspective on the Subject

By Dr. Deborah Lichtenberg, VMD

As a veterinarian, I look into many eyes buried in fur and whiskers every day. They speak to me.

These eyes are oceans of pain and joy. These eyes show affection. They show fear, abandonment and confusion. They show compassion and understanding. There are souls behind these eyes.

My friends and clients often ask me what I think they should tell their children when the family pet is dying. After our discussions, parents usually decide their children will get comfort if they say Frodo is going to heaven.

Well, why should that comfort only be in the purview of children?

My Belief

Whatever crisis or comfort of faith I’m having at any stage of life, I have always believed one thing: Wherever I’m going when this earthly phase is over, my spirit will be reunited with Pepe, Chipper, Periwinkle, Champ, Mr. Chips and Lady.

This was the short list of pets I included at the end of my “God blesses” at night after “Now I lay me down to sleep…” I wanted to think of them in heaven every night before I went to sleep.

I think this was because that famous children’s prayer — “If I should die before I wake?” — scared me.

I took great comfort in knowing that Mr. Chips and Lady would be waiting to greet me at the pearly gates if I didn’t wake up for my next day in the second grade.

The Reward of Heaven

If the Word of God, as most theologians state in the Judeo-Christian tradition, declares that animals do not possess immortality, and thus do not make it to heaven, I guess I’m a heretic.

I’m not sure where I heard this little story, but it stuck in my mind:

An elderly parishioner appeared at her pastor’s door. “Father, I’ve lost my dear Muffin, and I am grief-stricken. I understand that the church teaches that dogs don’t go to heaven.”

The pastor thought about this for a moment and said, “The reward of heaven is supposed to give you the ultimate happiness and peace, Mrs. Appleby, is it not?”

“Yes, Father, ultimate peace and happiness.”

“If you would not be happy in heaven without Muffin in it, Mrs. Appleby, I’m sure she will be there waiting for you.”

“Thank you, Father. I take it you know someone who has been there.”

Folks and theologians can argue all they want, but every pet lover knows there can be only one answer: Animals deserve everything we deserve — and more.

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