Help for Your Grieving Dog

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Leader of the Pack

When your dog loses the companionship of another dog, it can be heartbreaking. Although no one truly knows how much dogs understand about death, it's clear that they can experience loss very deeply and often become depressed. Just like humans who have lost a loved one, many dogs stop eating, lose interest in their favorite activities, and become lethargic or sleep excessively.

When a dog experiences the loss of a dog companion, he is also mourning the loss a fellow pack member and that dog's previous pack position. Your dog might now be a leader without a follower, or a follower without a leader. That's why it's important for you to help your dog find a healthy, new position in your home. These simple guidelines can ease the pain after a loss

Distract him. Take him for walks, bring him on car trips or invite friends—canine and human—over to visit. Also, consider buying dog puzzle toys specially designed for mental stimulation. Spend 15 minutes brushing him or giving him a massage. He'll start looking forward to the new routine.

Teach him new tricks. Even though your dog is older, he can keep learning for his entire life. Set aside a few minutes each day to teach him a new trick—such as fetching certain objects. Or introduce him to a new activity like catching a flying disc or agility, if he’s still physically active. The sense of accomplishment that training brings can give your pooch a new lease on life.

Reward good behavior—ignore bad behavior. During your dog's grieving process, don't give him any attention when he's excessively barking, whining, or howling—it will only reinforce this negative behavior. Praise him when he is sitting or resting quietly.

Don’t rush into getting a new dog. Older dogs often don't like changes in their environment, and adjusting to a new pet can add stress at an already stressful time. It's important to allow your dog the time to adjust to life without his companion—you may find he actually thrives on his own.

Be patient. The old saying "time heals all wounds" applies to your dog, too. Don't worry if your dog doesn't immediately respond to new activities or extra attention. Just be patient and he'll come around eventually. And try to be upbeat and positive—because if you are, he’s more likely to feel that way, too.

If you are worried about your dog's behavior, speak to your veterinarian. He or she may suggest medication to help ease your dog's anxiety. In the meantime, attention, affection, and activity are the best medicine you can provide.

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