Losing a friend – when a dog grieves Featured

Losing a beloved pet is one of the hardest things any dog owner has to face. The grief is often made harder by non-dog owner’s lack of understanding of the depth of the bond and the significance of the loss.

 

But what of the dog or dogs left behind? Do they grieve?  Do they need particular help or treatment?


These are hard questions to answer in a short space as every dog is different and every dog to dog relationship is different. This is probably the most important factor to bear in mind. The following advice should be tailored to your particular pet, your particular circumstances.

If you need additional help seek advice from your vet, a behaviourist or pet bereavement service.

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Firstly people often ask whether they should let their remaining pets see or sniff their dead companion. My answer is yes , especially if this is easy to arrange, for example if your pet has been put to sleep at home or you are taking it home to bury in the garden.

Some pets will be curious and come and sniff the body, some will avoid it, and some will show no interest at all. Do not force your dog to view its deceased friend. Dogs process the information in a different way from us. Smell is very important to them and once animals die their scent changes very quickly (remember the fleas jump off as soon as the animal is dead). Your dog will know.

Secondly, do not project your own feelings of grief onto your pet or expect them to behave in any particular way. Dogs and people are very close in some respects but in others still very different and this is where most misunderstandings spring from. Try and imagine what it is that your dog has lost and what it needs.



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Here are some of the things your dog may be experiencing

 

Loneliness

Your dog has lost a friend and a comforter. He has no one to play with or cuddle up to. Dogs that live together generally sleep together, lay side by side together, eat together, and go on walks together guard the house together. Your dog will be feeling very lonely.

You can try and alleviate that loneliness by giving extra cuddles, extra play time, an extra blanket or hot water bottle at bed time. Any sort of extra positive attention will make your dog feel better.


Loss of routine

Dogs do best when they live by a regular, predictable routine. The simple fact that your dog’s housemate has died means that their routine has changed. Everything they used to do together they now do alone.

Try and stick to the same routine as much as possible, at least initially, so that your dog does not have to cope with additional changes. Same walk times, same meal times, same food, same routine with the postman etc. etc.


Change of status

Dogs see themselves as part of a pack. When a pack member dies the status of the dog changes. This will obviously vary with the number of dogs that you have.
Your remaining dog may feel less confident, simply because of the fact that it has lost its ‘wingman’. The park, the postman, visitors may be may all be more of a challenge for a dog having to face them with no back up.

By contrast if the dog that died kept the other dog in its place you may find that your remaining dog has been relieved in some way. Although missing a furry friend to cuddle up to it no longer has someone telling it what to do all the time. In this case the dog is likely to cope well.
If you have several dogs there may be some tension about the new hierarchy within the pack so do not be surprised if there are scuffles or fights between your dogs.

If the new order is not sorted out quickly consult a behaviourist.

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Anxiety

Most dogs will experience some anxiety after the loss of a companion due to all of the reasons above. In addition they will pick up on their owner’s change in mood and behaviour. Dogs that are anxious are less active, engage less, may go off their food and may become more moody or snappy.

Dogs become uncertain when their environment changes and is unpredictable to them and this is exactly what happens when another dog in the house dies.

Provide reassurance, extra time (not extra treats). Repeating or introducing some positive/reward based basic training is often useful in these situations.If gets you and your dog to engage more, it creates a positive atmosphere and it will build your dog’s self-confidence.

If you have any concerns about training join a class or find a behaviourist for some one-to-one advice.

In essence your dog will work through its grief more quickly if you maintain its regular routine, making any changes slowly, and give it extra time and positive attention.

If your dog seems very withdrawn or unwell then you should consult your vet.

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