Dogs grieve the loss of a family member, whether human or canine, to varying degrees, depending on the relationship and bond they built over their time together. Some dogs will refuse to eat; some suffer more dramatically by trying to escape, apparently to go in search of their lost mate. Some seem to instinctively know what has occurred and behave in a more needy fashion than usual; following you from room to room, demanding attention or affection. No matter how your dog reacts, the following tips can help you and your dog get through this difficult time.
- If possible, prepare your dog for the departure. Soften the upcoming transition by spending extra time alone with your dog, engaging in activities that he enjoys, such as walks or playing fetch. Your aging or sick dog will probably enjoy some peace and rest. If you make the difficult decision to euthanize one of your dogs, you may want to consider allowing your other dog to be present (with your vet’s approval) as this may speed up his grieving process.
- If there is a human who is ailing and resting comfortably at home, take into consideration the changes that not only the human family members will be going through, but also the canine members, as the house may become chaotic with home visting nurses and visiting family.
- Following the loss of a closely bonded owner, dogs can suffer from separation anxiety or depression, just as people do. The extent of the symptoms is dependent on the bond with the owner. Owners who thrived on a dog’s intense dependence on them are more likely to have dogs that do not cope well when left behind with their passing.
- Continue taking walks and playing games that your dog enjoys. Whatever form your dog’s grief takes, you have to ensure that special thought is given to helping him cope with his loss. Lots of walks can be very helpful; try not to leave your dog alone too much. Fresh air and exercise can benefit you both. Instigate play, or try providing an interactive toy that delivers treats. You will be grieving too, but you need to keep your spirits up as you still have a dog that needs you now a much as ever.
- Stick to your normal routine as much as possible, and show your dog you are his person. Some owners begin to alter their own behavior; they stop taking the dog for walks or stop behaving like a leader. The dog’s whole routine is changed, which is very stressful for a dog and will add to his loss and compound his problems. It is important that the leadership you have provided your dogs over the years remains, as dogs that lose a mate often suffer from what their owners fail to do. If you stop showing clear leadership, your dog has not just lost a mate, but also his leader. By remaining calm and consistent and proving clear direction, your dog will feel more secure in the stable environment you are maintaining.
The symptoms of mourning can increase gradually over weeks or months. Remember that your dog needs your love and understanding. Be patient and supportive and he will return to his normal, fun-loving self in due time.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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