Ways to Help a Dog Grieving the Loss of Another Dog
Do Dogs Experience Grief?
Dogs tend to develop strong bonds with other dogs sharing the household, and these bonds can be pretty tight especially when the dogs were littermates and have grown up together or have shared many months or years together.
When a dog in the household dies, it is quite normal for the surviving dog to experience emotions that may appear quite similar to those humans experience when grieving the loss of a dog. But do dogs really feel grief?
In order to experience grief, dogs would need to understand the concept of death; this likely requires superior cognitive capabilities that dogs may lack. Chances are that dogs may understand death at a more primal level than humans and this is something that is not easy to prove.
Some researchers may point out that assuming a dog is capable of grieving is a form of anthropomorphism, that is, ascribing traits to animals that are only seen in humans. When confronted with the possible signs of a dog showing grief, such researchers may, therefore, explain that the emotions experienced by the dog may be more closely related to the dog's changes in routine rather than actual grief.
What may appear like grief, may be the dog simply responding to the absence of their companion's presence and companionship. Dogs may also respond to the dog owner's grief as a result of the loss.
Regardless of whether dogs truly grieve as humans or not, what we know for sure is that dogs respond to the loss of their canine friends, and when they do, they are often manifesting clear signs that may be interpreted as grief.
Signs That a Dog Is "Grieving"
Just as humans respond to losses in different ways, dogs do too. Not all dogs respond to a loss in the same way. It's important to recognize that these signs may also be seen in illness, and therefore, if the dog is behaving abnormally or for a prolonged period of time, it's best to play it safe and have the dog see a vet to rule out potential medical conditions. Here are signs that suggest a dog is grieving:
- Clingy behavior: The dog may want to be close to the owner, following the owner in every room and lying down by the owner's side. When left home alone, the dog may feel stressed.
- Pacing back and forth: The dog may be walking around the home as if looking for his departed friend. Often the dog will be repeatedly checking places where the other dog napped.
- Reduced appetite: The dog may refuse to eat or may have little appetite or may eat at a slower pace.
- Increased vocalizations: The dog may sniff areas where the other dog slept and may whine. The dog may whine when looking for his pal.
- Increased sleeping: Affected dogs may curl up and sleep longer than before. They may also choose different sleeping areas compared to before.
- Signs of depression: On top of sleeping more, the affected dog may appear depressed and therefore may no longer play and may show signs of social detachment.
Does Seeing the Body Provide Closure?
Letting your dog see and smell his departed friend can help provide a sense of closure so that your dog will be less inclined to be searching for his pal relentlessly for days. At-home euthanasia may work best considering that there is no ride home that may cause a lapse in the association between seeing and smelling his departed friend and his departed friend no longer being around the home. Bringing the deceased dog home may be another option.
Dogs may react in different ways to their departed companions. Some may approach and sniff, others may try to interact, while others may practice avoidance. Don't force your dog to approach if he doesn't feel like it.
When our beloved dog died, our other dog practiced avoidance at first, but then when we closed him in a room right before the company arrived to pick up the body of our deceased dog and he started repeatedly whining. We opened the door and he went straight to our deceased dog and approached her closer. We gave him a bit of time and he went back and forth between her and us. Afterward, when we closed him again, he stopped whining. We guess he wanted to give his beloved littermate a last farewell!
This must have helped as he really never went searching for her. Only once in a while, he would sleep near the areas she used to sleep and whine. Cleaning the carpet area with an enzyme-based cleaner where she mostly spent her last days seemed to help reduce the whining. I know the smell is still around, but it just might not be as overwhelming and may help to keep him under threshold. He still has some moments of whining as I am sure he still catches her scent, but it has lessened considerably.
Ways to Help a Grieving Dog
Although we can't talk to our dog and tell them that Fluffy is gone forever and we can't return the dog we have lost to life, there are several things that we can do to help our dogs better cope with the loss. Here are some options:
- Avoid acting overly emotional: Dogs are very sensitive to our emotions and they easily pick up on them. Crying hysterically in front of a dog may cause stress and makes the grieving process harder. Try to stay composed in front of your dog as much as possible.
- Remind yourself you need to take care of your dog: During the stages of grief when losing a dog, you may feel very tired and sluggish, especially the first days. You may find it hard taking care of anything. You may want to spend time alone or time with close friends. It's important to remember to take good care of your dog during this time. If you have trouble, ask for family or friends to help you out.
- Maintain the same routine: If you used to walk your dog at a set time each day, make sure you still keep walking your dog at that time (perhaps picking a new route that won't remind him of his lost companion). Dogs are routine-loving animals, and maintaining a routine helps them relax. Disruptions to a dog's routine sets off their biological clock (which is what causes them to expect things during the day such as mealtime, potty time, walking time, etc.).
- Keep your dog occupied: Keeping your dog busy may help keep his mind off the loss. Invest some time in providing your dog with brain games, fun training sessions, playtime etc. Invite some friends over to keep him entertained.
- Spend more time outdoors: The indoors is often the place where your dog will be more likely to think about his lost friend. Going on a walk, a car ride to a favorite pet store or visiting some friends in their homes provide a nice escape, albeit temporary.
- Spoil your dog: Pet him more, feed him food he loves, buy him new toys. Anything to make your dog feel extra special.
- Comfort your dog as needed: The loss of a dog is very stressful to a dog and many dogs will seek comfort and reassurance from their owners. Don't hesitate to help your dog by calmly reassuring him. Some dog owners may be afraid or tentative to make eye contact/touch/talk to their dogs because they are afraid they will reinforce certain behaviors. This is based on the outdated notion that emotions can be reinforced. You cannot reinforce grief in your dog because grief, just like fear, is an emotion and not a behavior. So don't let your dog feel like he is on his own when coping with such a stressful situation. Let him know he can count on you.
- Minimize alone time: If possible, take your dog out with you as much as possible. If he must stay alone most of the day, hire a dog walker or have a pet sitter keep him company. Doggy day care may also be a good idea. If these are not options, make sure your dog has access to interactive toys when you are away. Using a Furbo dog camera may also turn helpful.
- Invest in calming aids: A DAP diffuser or a DAP collar may help ease your dog's anxiety. Bach flowers may also turn helpful. There are several prescription and over-the-counter calming aids for dogs that may help grieving dogs.
- Give it time: Just like us, dogs need time to adjust to big changes such as the loss of another dog. Rushing right away to get another dog to fill the gap and ease Rover's pain may just add more stress, especially if you own an older dog and get another one out of impulse without considering finding a good match that will suit your dog's personality. You may also discover that some dogs may actually thrive being the "only dog," while others really perk up with a new addition.
And of course, always consult with a vet if things don't seem right. Yes, dogs may not eat much when they grieve, they may play less and act depressed, but these may also be signs of an illness. It's a fact that some illnesses may raise their ugly head when dogs are stressed and losing a canine companion is certainly a big stress.
© 2018 Adrienne Janet Farricelli