One of the most endearing qualities of a dog is their ability to “live in the moment”. We, as humans, often wish that we could do that. It takes a lot of effort sometime for us to just connect with the present… to be mindful… to enjoy the moment. Dogs just naturally live their life that way. In the same respect, dogs are unable to see beyond the present. They don’t look to the future, or have hope of a brighter tomorrow. When their world changes, for good or bad, they just live it, no matter how painful.
How Dogs Experience Loss
Death or absence of a guardian results in a sense of finality for a dog. Dogs can suffer the pain of depression and sorrow following the loss of a closely bonded family member, just like we do. The intensity of their suffering generally depends on the strength of the bond with that person. Although they do not easily give up the search for their loved one, the feeling of loss is all encompassing. Dogs will often pace and search, ears pricking at each noise in hopes of it being the sound of their loved one returning.
Change of Routine
Changes in the household routine is upsetting to your dog as well. Suddenly, in addition to not being able to find their family member, lots of people are coming to the house and the energy or “karma”, has changed. As your dog is very in-tune to your energy and the energy of those around him, this sudden change in dynamics is very unsettling and confusing for him.
Evidence of Mourning in Dogs
Most dogs will eventually begin to recover from their loss and go on with their lives, forming new attachments to other people. However, some seem to never move on and may need our help. Signs that your dog is mourning is evident in many ways. Restlessness, loss of appetite, lack of energy or interest in normal activity, increase in sleeping…generally all the same things that we go through when we are faced with loss. Some dogs may even show uncommon aggression. One family reported that their normally sweet and gentle dog guarded the front door of the home, growling at visitors, when the man of the house passed away.
How to Help a Dog Who is Mourning
How can you help a dog when he/she is mourning the loss of someone dear to them? It’s difficult, being that you are probably mourning a loss as well. You will most likely be busy with preparation, guests, etc., allowing you little time to spend with your dog. If at all possible, try to keep their schedule as close to “normal” as you can. That would include normal walks and eating times. If they are not eating, you may try hand-feeding them, or encouraging them with their favorite foods. If you are unable to walk them, ask a close friend with whom your dog is familiar, to take him on his walk. As the evenings draw near, spend some extra time with him. Try entertaining him with toys and belly rubs…whatever makes him happy. You may even consider letting him sleep with you.
When your routine returns to a somewhat normal pace, your dog should be showing signs of recovery. If he/she still appears to be mourning, or is showing signs of declining mental or physical health, a trip to the vet may be in order.