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Do Dogs Grieve? Helping Your Dog Through Their Grieving
The simple answer is yes. However grief is never simple.
He found that most people go through five stages of grief when we suffer the loss of a family member, friend or pet. They are denial/isolation, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. We do not go in any special order, nor do we all experience all five stages. Each of us deals with loss differently. So are our dogs.
For those of you who have watched your dog suffer from the loss of a loved one’s canine companion, there is nothing sadder. We can’t explain to them what happened, or why people’s pets or companions will never come back. They are confused. The feelings of separation and abandonment are quiet real for them. The only thing they recognize is that one minute the object of their grief was here, the next they are gone.
They often express feelings of abandonment through one, all, or any combination of denial/isolation, anger, depression, and eventually acceptance.
More often than not, it is a shared loss. But sometimes we are so caught up in our own grief, we don’t see that our pet is suffering too. As caregivers, we need to recognize and help them get through these stages as painlessly as possible.
Since they cannot communicate verbally, we cannot sit over a cup of coffee and share our feelings and memories with them as a two-way discussion. However, there are things we can do, not only to offer support and compassion, but to help them recover.
Many dog owners have found helping their pets to be therapeutic for them as well.
The depth of grief is often related to the strength and length of the relationship. Some people can grieve forever. Most are quite resilient and after a reasonable amount of time, slowly come to accept their losses. This shared experience of loss and healing often benefits both caregivers and pets. It often forges a relationship and bond even stronger.
Dogs express their grief and stress through their behavior. Think about the uncertainties of the feelings of trust, dependence, loyalty, identity and attachment. It is quite common that they will influence their behavior.
The stages of grief to watch for and suggestions to help your dog recover while working through them are:
You can find your pet well planted at the door… patiently waiting. Or sit on a “special” chair or the person’s bed, refusing to leave it. Some may hide under a bed, or refuse to leave a room. Dogs that find comfort in the crates, can be removed from it. If it’s a lost companion dog, they may want to sleep in their crate or bed. What are you doing?
By habit, they may respond enthusiastically to familiar sounds such as a car door slamming, a voice on a ward or a key in the door, only to turn around and retreat to the sanctuary. For a reasonable amount of time, respect their need to wait or their desire to be alone. For the majority of dogs, it may take several days or weeks, for others a month or so, but eventually most realize who or what they are waiting for does not return to them. Note: If they respond to the voice on the answering machine, consider changing it, rather than leaving it as a constant reminder.
Coax, do not force them to come out and communicate. Share a pleasant experience like a walk or a game of fetch. Cuddling You both could probably use a little touch therapy.
Talk to them. The sound of your voice is reassuring. Use lots of praise when you see them trying to break through the barricades they have set up. Let them know you are happy to be together.
Some will not be interested in food when they are sad. Do not bring the food to them. Keep it where it is usually placed. Encourage, but do not force them to eat. You can try to lure them with something special in it. Usually, when they get hungry enough, they will eat. It may be when no one is there, but you will notice the food is gone.
More important than eating, is staying hydrated. Place a bowl of water where they have been removed. Place it far enough, that an attempt must be made to reach it.
Do not avoid, or overuse, the area where they were removed. Act normally.
Some dogs express their grief by reverting to inappropriate behavior. They may incessantly bark, whine, moan or cry. Or chew items even if they haven’t chewed anything in years. Others may relieve themselves at home. They can associate this will bring people back, if for no other reason than to be corrected or punished. They can also show their anger by growling or snapping. What are you doing?
Do not tolerate inappropriate behavior. Calmly and patiently make the necessary corrections. Transferring your anger onto them will only increase the tension. Any attention from you should be as positive as possible under these circumstances. Attention may be just what they are looking for. You don’t want to alienate them, but you have to let them know that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated.
A sad dog is a sad sight. Canine depression manifests itself in a number of ways, most often lack of appetite and lack of interest in anything. Helping your pet get through this stage of grief can heal you too. What are you doing?
Humans and dogs are creatures of habit. We have our routines and dogs we recognize and relate to more than we give them credit for. As much as possible, change your routines and schedules. It can help us both. Get up half an hour earlier. Go to bed an hour later. If you walk them before eating, reverse it. If you eat in the morning, switch to the evening for a change. Do not immediately grab your car keys and run out of the house in the morning. Sit for a few minutes. Flip through a magazine or watch the news. Invite people they know and love, to the house. You want your dog to notice a new routine.
They need you. After a reasonable time to grieve, include your dog in more of your activities. Take them with you to work if possible. Take them with you to social activities with friends and dogs or invite them to your place.
Enroll in positive reinforcement, punishment-free obedience classes. Doing something new and different not only challenges your dog to use their mind, it can motivate them to participate more. A refresher course in obedience is beneficial and a great way to bond. Dogs are pack animals. Some may resist socializing and interacting with other dogs in the class when given the opportunity.
Take them to a doggy daycare for one or two days a week. New people, new dogs and new surroundings may be just what they need to get over the hump.
If your dog likes car rides, go on cruises. Jump in the car and go for a ride to nowhere. If there is a beach or park on the way, stop, get out and let them feel around. It’s the little pleasures that will slowly bring them back. It is also a wonderful opportunity to now create a new bond with you.
Go for a walk. Explore together. Take a walk. Find some new places for your dog to discover new sights and smells. He will encourage them. Few can resist the challenge!
When the time comes and you believe you are ready to invite a new puppy or dogs into your pack, include your dog in this decision. Just as you wouldn’t want someone to choose a mate for you, neither do dogs. Let them choose their new pack mates. It will make introducing a new dog into the house easier if the two get along right from the get-go. It’s amazing how nearly every dog will climb; when they have a mate they can relate canine-to-canine. It is essential that they personally choose their new BFF.
In time, unless so discouraged it becomes a serious health problem, most dogs will gradually accept the changes in their lives. What are you doing?
If your dog continues to show signs of severe depression after 4-6 months, consult your veterinarian.
At this time, their relationship with you has evolved into a positive one. They have new routines and schedules. They have positive associations with the new experiences you have shared together. Will look forward to more. Plus, if you have added a new canine companion, they will keep each other so busy and active your dog’s personality will return to what it was before they experienced the loss.
Bottom line: Allow your dog a reasonable amount of time to grieve. As their primary caregiver, it is your duty to continue to provide exciting new opportunities for fun, adventure, training, socialization and bonding to bring zest back into their lives. We have them for such a short time. We want them to be as happy as possible.
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