Living with dogs

Helping the Bereaved Dog

Recently, I was asked to do a piece regarding grief in dogs after one of the other dogs in the household passes away.
Having only recently lost my beloved Takara, I understand this only too well.
It’s hard enough for us when we lose a dog, after all they’re a member of the family. However, people often forget that the remaining dogs may also grieve the loss of their companion. Their grief is as real as ours and unfortunately, just like ours, there is no magic cure. They need to go through the process.
We need to give them time to readjust, however, there are things we can do to ease the way and help any remaining dogs come to terms with their loss.

Be kind to yourself
Remember, your pets also pick up on your own grief, and this is perfectly natural. However, as I found myself, when I lost Takara, Radan became very clingy which at first I put down to grief, but I do wonder how much of it was because he could tell I was upset. He wasn’t particularly close to Takara, but he’s very close to me and he’s very sensitive to my moods.
The more you can keep upbeat, the better your remaining dogs are likely to be, animals are very sensitive and they do pick up on our moods.
Having said that, don’t blame yourself if you need to sit and cry, it’s part of the healing process.

Keep them busy
Another thing you can do for the grieving dog is to keep them busy. Get out for a walk and if they enjoy playing with toys, take their favourite toy and have a game together.
Dogs live in the moment. This doesn’t mean they can’t grieve or feel the loss of their companion, but it does mean that their thoughts can be more easily redirected.
For dogs that go off their food, it doesn’t hurt to encourage them with more tempting foods. You needn’t keep this up for too long, but in the short term don’t worry about sticking fast with the rules, give them some choice.
Most of all, try not to make a fuss over the way they are acting. Play it down, and give them time. Remember, even when grieving dogs are learning and they repeat behaviours that they find rewarding. This can be used by you and against you!
Be there when your dog wants you to be and allow them to grieve quietly alone when they need to, the same way you need friends to treat you during your grief. Don’t push a dog, or any pet, into having attention that they don’t want.

I mentioned going out for a walk above, but another benefit of this, and trying to do something more energetic with them is that exercise is a mood booster. It releases endorphins which make you and your dog feel good. If you’re fit and able, maybe go for a run or walk faster than usual with your dog. Engage in the activity together and you’ll both feel better for the exercise.

A new friend?
This may not be suitable for a number of reasons, but if your dog has always lived with their companion, and they are older, it may help them tremendously to introduce a new dog – probably not a puppy if your dog is quite elderly, but an older rescue who they can make friends with and share each other’s company just as they did with your lost loved one.
Be aware before you do this, however, that they are unlikely to have the same relationship. Two of my dogs were the ultimate soul mates, and since one died, I have had several others come through as fosters or to stay, but the one left behind never bonded the same. It doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t get companionship from each other, just don’t be upset if they don’t seem as close, or don’t have the same kind of relationship – every dog and every relationship between dogs is different.
If you can’t get another dog for whatever reason, meeting up with friends who have dogs that your dog gets on with, will help to occupy them and give them that canine interaction that they are now lacking.

It’s a cliché, I know, but time does help. I don’t know that it heals, if it does it never heals neatly, the cracks are still there – at least for us humans they are, but it would seem that when it comes to dogs, living in the moment means that they can move on more easily. Try not to rush them into being okay – you and your dog both need time to grieve your lost family member.
elderly dachshund lays on a couch with a sad expression

One thought on “Helping the Bereaved Dog

  1. Wonderful advice. As you mentioned, I believe that some of the behavior change comes from the dog picking up on your moves: my dogs have acted similarly when I’ve been grieving the loss of a family member as they have done when grieving another dog. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should deny or suppress your own grief.

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