Skeptics to the contrary, it has been shown that dogs, like humans, do indeed mourn the loss of their close doggy friends. And although, unlike humans, they may not “understand” the concept of death, they know that their friend is no longer around and they miss the valued companionship and treasured playtime they once shared.
Their behavior will, therefore, understandably change as they react to and adjust to their new situation, causing them to display one or more symptoms of grief.
Losing their appetite; behaving listlessly or lethargically; sleeping more; playing less; becoming uncharacteristically aggressive or destructive; eliminating inappropriately indoors; vocalizing in an unusual way for the dog they miss; searching for their onetime friend both inside and outside, and becoming very needy or clingy, following their owners everywhere they go.
In fact, a recent study assessing the many different behavior patterns in such dogs concluded that 66% of them actually experienced FOUR or more behavioral changes after the loss of their canine companions -- indicating grief. And that, like people, the grieving process differs for each individual dog and can last from several weeks to several months.
Worried owners eager to help their grieving dog deal with his very obvious pain should:
Avoid open displays of your own grief in front of him.
Spend extra time with him. Try to divert his attention by engaging in some of his favorite pastimes, whether it’s going for walks, playing games of fetch, taking rides in the car, going for doggy ice cream or strolling the aisles of your favorite pet store.
Shower him with attention and affection. Pet him more often, being especially tender and gentle. Establish soft eye contact with him, while, at the time, using his name and verbalizing even the most mundane of household routines such as, “Okay, Chico, let’s empty the dishwasher” or “All right, Brody, let’s fold some towels.” Pamper him by feeding him more of his favorite foods and if he loves toys, buy him some new ones.
If your dog enjoys the company of other people, invite some over, one or two at a time. Stand back and allow them to interact with him (another new toy or a handful of his favorite treats never hurt), not only introducing fresh faces and voices into the mix but new smells and touches as well.
Keep him constructively entertained when you leave home, whether for a few hours or for much of the day. Hide treats in his favorite spots for him to find or fill up a foraging toy with food to “fill in” the time that you’re gone. Better still, if possible, hire a dog walker or a pet sitter to keep him company.
Reinforce all good behaviors and ignore all unwanted behaviors. Example: If your grieving dog howls without provocation, resist the temptation to calm him down by offering him a treat. This only reinforces a behavior you don’t want. Firmly but gently tell him “no” and reward him – whether it’s with food or a hug -- when he complies.
Experiment with various calming aids. A DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser or DAP collar may help ease his anxiety, while Bach flowers may also prove helpful. Besides numerous over-the-counter calming aids, there are several behavior modification drugs available by prescription through your vet.
Delay replacing your late dog with another. Allow your dog – and you -- adequate time to grieve and adjust to the loss so that you can avoid adding more stress to an already stressful situation.
Article by Nomi Berger. Nomi is the bestselling author of seven novels, one work of nonfiction, two volumes of poetry, and hundreds of articles. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and has been writing as a volunteer for animal rescue groups in Canada and the U.S.A. since 2013.