Helping your dog grieve
They say that a dog is man's best friend, but what happens when your dog loses a friend? Whether it's another pet in the house that died or one of a dog's owners, he will go through a grieving period just like humans.
Dogs are one of the most expressive pets we bring into our lives. When your dog loses a companion, he will have stages of grieving the loss just as we experience. While we will never really know exactly how they process the loss of a special friend, there is no denying the sadness they express.
Signs of grief
All dogs are different, and their reactions to loss will vary. Here are some of the signs of grief your dog may display.
- Loss of appetite
- Quieter, with less vocalizing and barking
- Sleeping more than usual
- Acting very tired or lethargic
- Loss of interest in taking a walk or playing
Losing a dog friend
The loss of another dog means the loss of a constant companion, one who was with your dog all day. The separation from this bond changes his regular daily routine and may make him feel disoriented. This causes distress for your dog, which may add to his sadness.
If you have more than one dog in your home, there is usually some sort of pecking order established. When one of the dogs dies, the other dogs may shift positions within the group. This adjustment adds to the difficulty of this transition. If the dominant dog dies, the grieving dog left behind has to adjust to being in charge. Sometimes the remaining dog begins to display a more outgoing personality that may have been stifled because of the other dog's dominance.
How to help
- Don't rush to throw out items that belonged to the deceased dog.
- Keep a blanket or other reminder that belonged to the dog who died. The scent might be comforting to your dog.
- Pay extra attention to your dog, but don't go overboard and create a larger problem.
- Try and stick to regular routines, if possible.
- Give your dog some time to adjust before making a decision about bringing another dog into your family.
Loss of a human companion
We have all seen the sad images on the Internet of dogs who would not leave their owners, even in death. The dog-human bond is very strong, and the loss a dog feels when he loses his owner can be very profound. Especially in situations where the dog has only one owner, a dog feels lost and depressed when he is suddenly alone. Routines are disrupted and the dog may show signs of confusion as he looks for his owner.
Shelters see the effects of grief on dogs firsthand, since many dogs wind up in shelters when their owners die. Having a plan ensures that your dog will be well cared for in case something happens to you. It would be especially helpful to your dog if the person entrusted with his care was already familiar to him.
How to help
- Help the dog transition to his new home and surroundings slowly. He is not only grieving the loss of his owner, but the loss of his home as well.
- Be aware of routines and try to stick to them if possible.
- Nighttime can be the hardest — consider letting the dog co-sleep with you to help him feel less abandoned.
- Use lots of positive reinforcement, but don't go overboard and spoil the dog. This creates more problems than it fixes.
- Set aside some time to just relax with the grieving dog each day. A 10-minute brushing session each day can create a new bond between the two of you.
Helping a dog work through grief can be a rewarding experience and is just as important for the dog as it is for humans.