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How can I help my dog cope with grief?

When signs of grief become evident following the loss of an animal or human family member, concerned owners can help their dogs deal with grief:

  1. Spend extra time with your dog. Try to divert your dog’s attention by engaging in her favorite pastimes. Go for a walk. Play a game of fetch. Take a ride in the car.

  2. Be more affectionate. Make a point of petting your dog more often. Make eye contact and talk to him by verbalizing routine household activities, “OK, Scout, let’s load the dishwasher.”

  3. If your dog enjoys company, invite friends over who will interact with your dog. A little human variety, can pique your dog’s interest.

  4. Provide entertainment while you are gone. Hide treats in popular (to your dog) household locations for him to find during the day or fill a foraging toy with food to keep him busy while you are gone.

  5. Reinforce good behavior and ignore inappropriate behavior. Some mournful dogs vocalize or howl without provocation. Although it is hard to do, try to ignore this behavior. Resist the temptation to give your dog a treat to quiet him, which will only reinforce the behavior you want to change. Firmly tell him to hush and reward him if he complies. The reward does not have to be food….a hug will suffice. You may also try to break the howling cycle by distracting your dog. Instead of approaching him, which may be interpreted as positive reinforcement of the undesirable behavior, try calling him to you. If he heeds your command, praise him and initiate a distraction with a walk, or a game.

  6. Consider medical therapy. If your dog has prolonged difficulty following a loss, ask your veterinarian about the use of a behavior modification drug. There are several medications that can serve as adjunct therapy and may enhance your efforts at resolving behavior issues associated with mourning. Your pet’s doctor may want to do blood and urine tests prior to prescribing medication to rule out systemic problems that could affect behavior, such as thyroid problems, diabetes, or electrolyte imbalances, to name a few.

  7. Think carefully about replacing a lost pet. If your dog’s grief is due to the loss of a canine companion, don’t rush to find a replacement. Give your dog time to grieve and adjust to the loss. Introduction of a new dog may add more stress to an already stressful situation.

Dogs have a much narrower social structure with set boundaries that extend only as far as the inside of the house, or the perimeter of the yard, or the walking path around the neighborhood. Their days are focused on a much smaller social periphery that may include only the other pets and people within the immediate family unit. When a member of that family unit is gone, there is a huge void in the dog’s life and they may need help in dealing with loss.

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