Every dog owner recognizes that their loyal companion will die someday. That day always feels like it's far off, but it can happen suddenly and unexpectedly or it may be anticipated as a result of old age or an illness. Either way, it can be very difficult to face.
Feel the loss. It's okay…
It's perfectly normal to feel a profound sense of loss when your dog dies. Feeling and expressing yourself at this time is a mark of respect to your dog. It's not trivial. You've spent some wonderful years together.
Try writing your feelings down "stream-of-consciousness" style in your journal or write a letter to your dog. Get the emotions out of you. You may feel anger, guilt or the sense of being extremely alone. Acknowledge this. If you bury your pain and just get busy, you won't have a chance to work through the loss and it will inevitably surface later, quite unexpectedly.
Reminisce about the best days you spent with your dog, like when you first brought him home or took your walk in the park. Make a photo collage of his life and think about his character and the moments when he was at his happiest. It will help you to fully appreciate everything he contributed to your life.
Take the time to grieve your constant companion
Grieving the loss of your dog takes time. You'll most likely experience a range of emotions as time goes on: first denial and shock, then anger, guilt, depression and loneliness. Then finally, the clouds will part slightly and you'll begin to feel a sense of acceptance and hope. These are the normal stages of grieving. You may also find that down the road, if something else in your life upsets you, emotions surrounding the loss of your dog, will bubble up to the surface and you may feel like crying. You might not understand where the intensity of this emotion came from. Just know that this is perfectly normal after a loss like this.
Tell your friends and family the story of your dog
Every time you tell those you love the story of your dog-who he was, what his best tricks were, how fun-loving he was, or a funny moment-the more solid and grounded you will feel. Repeating this "story" is therapeutic and it helps to immortalize him.
Be sure that you share this with someone who won't belittle your grief over the loss of your pet. Don't downplay how much your dog meant to you or how much you miss him, in order to put on a brave face. Talk it out with someone - cry even, as long as you feel comfortable. The release will be helpful.
If you don't have family or friends who understand your loss, or if you need more support, speak with your vet in order to find a pet loss counselor or support group. You may just need to be with others who are more empathetic.
Is it time for a new puppy?
The truth is you may need some time to grieve the dog you've just lost, so getting a new dog right may not be the best idea for some individuals. Filling "the void" with a new dog when you're still grieving can cause resentment. The new dog won't "take the place" of the dog you just lost. You need some time to create the space for a new dog in your life.