It may surprise you to know that dogs grieve over the loss of a companion also, whether the companion was a human or another dog.
Humans go through five stages of grief when a loved one dies. These stages were identified by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross as denial, isolation, anger, depression, bargaining, and finally acceptance. Humans don’t necessarily pass through all five stages, or in the same order, because people deal with the loss of someone dear in many different ways.
If your dog has suffered from the loss of a beloved human or canine companion, it isn’t possible to explain to them what has happened or why their human or pet will never return. A dog often becomes confused and has feelings of separation and abandonment. In a dog’s world, all they know is one minute their beloved companion was here and the next minute they are gone.
They frequently express their feelings of abandonment through either one, all, or any combination of denial/isolation, anger, depression, and eventually acceptance.
A dog will grieve over a loss like humans do, but people are usually so caught up in their own sorrow that they fail to see that their pet is also stricken with heartache. Since dogs cannot communicate verbally, we can’t make them understand what has happened by engaging them in conversation. As a responsible dog owner you can offer support and compassion to your remaining pet or pets, and help them pass through the grieving stages as painlessly as possible.
The depth of an animal’s grief generally relates to the strength and duration of the relationship with the deceased animal or person. As their keeper, we need to recognize this and help them pass through those stages as painlessly as possible. After accepting the loss of a companion in a reasonable amount of time, most dogs will recover and resume their regular life.
Dogs express their grief through their behavior. Some days, or every day for some dogs, you may find it sitting or standing patiently at the door waiting for the return of the loved one. Some dogs will hide under a bed, or refuse to leave a room that the loved one occupied. For the majority of dogs it may take several days or weeks to realize the person or dog they are waiting for is not returning to them.
Some dogs will not be interested in eating when they are going through a grieving period. If this happens encourage the dog to eat but don’t force it. When they get hungry enough, they will eat.
Some dogs express their grief by reverting to inappropriate behavior like barking, whining, or crying. To help your pet overcome feelings of grief, pay more attention to it than you normally do. Take it on long car rides, and visit the local dog park so your dog is surrounded by other dogs who aren’t going through any grieving.
Go for long walks together in new places your dog hasn’t been to before, or hasn’t visited in a long time. In the early stages of grieving don’t take it to any places where it used to go with the person or dog who is deceased.
After 4 to 6 months your pet will accept its new routines and schedules and its nature and temperament will return to what it was before it experienced the loss.
Dogs do grieve, so allow your dog a reasonable amount of time to mourn. As the primary guardian of your pet, it’s your responsibility to find new and exciting adventures for your dog so it can gradually return to a normal life.