Is Depression Like a Dog?

Putting together the recent post “Reading Memoirs of Depression”, I noticed an odd trend in metaphor. Three depression memoirs by three different authors have these titles:

In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression
Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression
Killing the Black Dog: A Memoir of Depression

And browsing the self-help book The Mindful Way through Depression this week, I noticed this opening passage: “Depression hurts. It’s the ‘black dog’ of the night that robs you of joy, the unquiet mind that keeps you awake.”

How did dogs become such a common symbol of depression?


Among things in this world which reliably bring me unalloyed joy, dogs rank near the top. For me, dogs are a bulwark against depression. Petting dogs, playing with dogs, watching dogs play, getting slobbery kisses from dogs, having a dog sleep next to me on the couch.

And why black dogs in particular? Black labrador retrievers and scottish terriers are among the most pleasant dogs in the world.


And if I wanted to brainstorm metaphors for fighting back against depression, “killing the dog” or “shooting the dog” would never occur to me. I’m depressed, not a psychopath.

Seriously, it makes me sad just to think about someone shooting a dog. What’s wrong with these people?

The idea of depression as a “beast”, one which you can and must fight back against, makes sense. If I had to pick a specific beast as metaphor, depression is more like a swarm of cockroaches. Being clinically depressed is like being trapped in quicksand, with cockroaches scurrying across the surface and maybe sharks below the surface nipping at your ankles. OK, that’s probably too complicated for a book title. But please, please, leave the poor doggies out of this.


Photo credits: chew toy lab by Oakley Originals; scottish terrier by Cheryl Brind; black lab on denim by M-riedel. Thanks!

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