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Dealing with Grief in Dogs

dog looking through the window

When your dog mourns the companionship of another dog, it can be heart breaking. Although it is not known how much dogs understand about death, it's clear that dogs can become extremely depressed after a companion dies. Just like humans who have lost a loved one, many dogs lose their appetite, no longer have interest in their favorite activities, become lethargic or sleep excessively. If you are worried about your dog's behavior, speak to your vet. She may wish to prescribe medication to help ease your dog's anxiety.

A New Position

When a dog is mourning the loss of a dog companion, he is mourning a fellow pack member and the loss of their 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.

Gentle Distraction

If your dog is grieving, you should provide him with more attention, affection and activity. Try to keep his mind off his loss by doing things that he likes. Take him for walks, bring him on car trips or invite people over. Also you can buy toys that are designed for mental stimulation.

Even though your dog is older, he can keep learning for his entire life. Teach him new tricks or easy games. Also, set aside a few minutes each day to bond with your dog. Spend 15 minutes brushing him or giving him a massage - he'll start looking forward to the new routine.

Patience is Key

Remember the old saying "time heals all wounds"? It applies to your dog too. Don't fret if your dog doesn't immediately respond to new activities or extra attention. Just be patient and he'll come around eventually.

During your dog's grieving process, don't give him attention when he's exhibiting behavior you don't like - it will reinforce this negative behavior. If your dog is barking, whining or howling, don't distract him. Give him attention when he is sitting or resting quietly.

Time for a New Dog?

Now may not be the time to get another dog for a couple of reasons. Older dogs don't like changes in their environment, and adjusting to a new pet can be stressful. Also, it's important to realize that your dog will eventually adjust to being without a canine companion - and may actually thrive on his own.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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