There was the most beautiful husky at the Stony Point mall the other day…. I asked her owner if I could pet her, and she was proud to allow me to do so, but the dog didn’t respond to me in any way. She didn’t look towards me, she didn’t come closer to me when I was touching her, and she didn’t even react when I said her name…she just stood still and stared straight ahead. Her owner was somewhat embarrassed and explained to me that “Noel” has been “weird like that ever since her [canine] sister died”. I asked what Noel was like before her sister passed away and the owner said that she had been very sociable with people and pets. She used to love going out in public. Isn’t that sad? Dogs cannot tell us how they’re feeling. Noel was obviously grieving the passing of her sister.
I wish I could have asked more questions… like how long it had been since the sister passed; how Noel’s behavior was at home; and so on. But it was a casual, quick meeting and the owner’s friend was waiting to move on. I would have liked to have made some suggestions in hopes of helping Noel and her owner. Sometimes if a “subordinate” dog loses its leader, or the “alpha” of the two, the remaining dog will become very withdrawn. They may suddenly choose not to interact with other people or pets. This could be what happened to Noel.
It’s normal for a dog’s behavior to temporarily change for 1-2 weeks after the loss of a closely bonded pal, and that behavior can take many forms. A dog may mope around and want to go off by herself rather than be with her family. She may show a lack of interest in her normal activities, like taking walks or playing fetch. Some dogs become very nervous or become clingy to a family member. Some may even begin having “accidents” in the house. If she isn’t back to herself after a period of time, she could be depressed.
Is My Dog Depressed?
Doggie depression is a real thing. From what we can surmise (since our dogs can’t actually tell us), doggie depression isn’t much different from human depression. Aside from a simple lack of energy, you may see symptoms like a change in sleeping habits… from restlessness at night to sleeping all day. Or even sleeping in weird places, like behind furniture or in a closet. You may see a change in appetite or eating habits in general. Either your dog will not be interested in food at all, or she will overeat to comfort himself. Your normally social little-one may wish to avoid family members altogether.
If your dog is depressed, it may take some time to bring her around. Let her have that time, however, watch for any self-destructive type of behaviors that may come about from a prolonged depression. If she doesn’t show any improvement after about 2 weeks, you may want to consider taking her to the vet. If she has reacted to her grief by not eating or drinking, don’t wait to seek help. Call your vet after a day or two so that her health will not be compromised. Medication is available. In fact, depression medication for dogs who are depressed are the same types that we take for depression, i.e., Prozac for example.
How You Can Help Your Dog With Their Depression
Chances are, you are suffering the loss too. It’s so hard to lose a pet… probably one of the worst things we, as pet lovers, must go through. Remember, however, that your dog takes its clues from you. If you are heavily grieving the death of one of your dogs, your remaining dog will definitely pick up on your negative energy. Psychologists or animal behaviorists may argue, but we as pet lovers feel that our dogs respond to our sorrow with empathy. We’ve seen it. It will be hard to put your own feelings aside, but in the midst of your sadness, try to make positive connections with your remaining pet. Sit with her and pet her, smile and talk softly to her. Try to assure her that you’re not going anywhere.
As crazy as it may seem, talk to your dog about his friend’s death. She may not understand your words, but she may understand the emotion behind them. Perhaps I give more credit to a dog’s psyche than is reasonable, but I’m not alone in that assumption. You can read various reports online from people who experience positive responses from their dogs by just talking to them. Maybe it’s simply the psychological fact that our talking about what happened helps us to heal, and our dog responds to that emotion. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Or maybe… just maybe… our dogs are smarter than we give them credit for.
Many people think that they need to go out immediately and get another dog to replace the one that passed away. They think that will help their remaining dog with its loneliness. It may or may not help, depending on your dog’s personality, but it’s best to wait a while before doing so. Your dog needs time to heal. The passing of a friend is a major stressor in your dog’s life. You don’t want to add a new pet to the household, thereby adding another major stressor right on top of the first one. Take your clue from your dog. If your dog seems to perk up and show an interest in a friend’s dog, or a neighbor’s dog, it may help her to have a new buddy at home.
Surprisingly, some dogs show absolutely no signs or grief when they lose a companion. I owned a couple of sweet sibling beagles one time that had not been apart their entire lives. When Abby died at 8 years of age, Barney, even after observing Abby’s body, cocked his head sideways, sniffed her body, and then went on his merry way. Your dog may not mourn. Who knows, maybe her life partner caused her more stress than joy? It’s hard to say. But just because there are no outward signs of stress or sadness, does not necessarily mean that she is not hurting in some way.
How to Cheer Up Your Dog with Depression
After respectfully allowing your dog a few of days to grieve, it may be helpful to try to interest her in something new…. Something that will not trigger memories of her pal. Take her to a new park…somewhere where she and her pal didn’t normally go so that she won’t be “looking” for him there. Let her meet and sniff other dogs at the park. Bring her to Camp at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts to make new friends. Let the counselors know about her loss so that they can monitor her mood and responsiveness. You may even consider changing-up her normal walking route so that you are not walking where she and her pal used to walk. Change her mindset by seeing if you can interest her in learning a new trick.
As you attempt to comfort her, be careful not to “reward” her depressive behavior. That can be difficult. For example, let’s say your dog has been relieving herself inside the house ever since the passing of her companion. You think, “Awww, poor thing…maybe a treat would cheer her up.” You give her a treat and she thinks, “Oh, it must be a good thing that I peed in the house!” See what I mean? Reward only her positive behavior… like when she takes a drink she hasn’t taken in a while, or when she picks up the tennis ball that she hasn’t shown an interest in for a week.
Your job is to provide your dog with lots of extra love and attention while they’re going through the grieving process. Take her on long walks, if she’s up to it. Maintain your dog’s normal routine during her grieving period. She will take comfort in stability and consistency. We don’t really know how long a dog will remember her companion, but I do think that they will remember if triggered… like the passing dog’s smell, toys, etc.. Under normal circumstances, this will pass and things will return to normal.