A dog mourning the loss of a pack mate

This was a question from @ridngirl on Twitter: Any hints for a dog that is mourning the loss of a pack mate? My little man is depressed and looking for his brother? So sad.

Tips and solutions to help a mourning dog

I am so sorry to hear about your loss – it is so tough for the entire family. It’s difficult to understand the kinds of emotions dogs have, and what they are specifically feeling. What seems very clear is that they do have such emotions: many dog guardians notice their dog mourning the loss of a family member, but what is best for your dog will have to come from your instincts and history. You know your dog best! That said, it is pretty safe to say that you could help your dog in a similar way to how you would work him or her through other anxieties and fears. A lot of the time, you can help with anxiety and fear using distraction. It works the same way with humans working through loss: keep yourself busy so you don’t dwell on the pain all day long. It’s hard to say how a dog “works through” grief, but we can help our companions by not allowing them to constantly dwell on the change in their life.

How can you distract a dog mourning the loss of another dog? Here are a few ideas:

  • Physical activity: Take your dog for extra walks, take your dog with you on outings whenever possible, and keep your dog busy. Turn your walk into a training walk – practice some urban agility, take a new route, meet a friend with their dog, and so on.
  • Training: Teach your dog some new tricks or a new sport. Perhaps enroll them in a local training class so they have the opportunity to interact with other dogs (if and when it is allowed). Training is great mental exercise too, so it will help exhaust your dog in the process.
  • New routines: Switch up the house so it’s different from before (I actually did this for myself after losing my dog). Change routines, layouts, smells, sounds – run the radio if that’s not usual in the house.
  • Busy, busy, busy: Distraction can mean anything. Talk to your dog a lot, keep their mind going with games, ask them to follow you, take them with you – even if it’s just out to the mailbox, regular games of find-it. Just keep them busy “working” if he’s not busy sleeping.
  • Boost his confidence: It’s possible that your dog relied on the pack mate for confidence, and perhaps even some leadership. Dogs gain a lot of confidence from each other (chase the raccoon alone? Never. With another dog? Of course – let’s get maimed together!) – so your dog may be worried about how things will work without the other dog around. Show your dog she doesn’t need to be worried, that you are the person to look to for confidence: push the shoulders back, ask her to do extra “tasks”, ask him to follow you around where ever you go, whatever it takes to remind her that she’s still safe and sound in the world.

And most of all – comfort each other. If your stress and sadness is reduced by using your dog for comfort, this will eventually bring him comfort too. It takes time to heal, give yourselves the time.

Do you have a dog training or behavior question? Ask!

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About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.