Do Dogs Grieve

There's no question that life's most traumatic events often revolve around the death
of a loved one, whether human or animal.

It's a difficult and emotional time during which we reach out to our friends, family,
and community to help us with the grieving process and adjust to a new reality.

What's often overlooked, however, is the toll that loss can take on our dog, and the
extent to which he understands the loss and permanence of death.

Do dogs grieve? Evidence has long supported that members of the animal kingdom develop their own ways of dealing with death and grief. Often times, death is accepted in the wild as a part of the "circle of life," and many higher-level species maintain elaborate rituals surrounding the death of a pack member.

Their domesticated counterparts are no different, as many dog owners can attest. The stages of grief experienced by dogs appear much like ours - in fact sometimes identical to our own behaviors and moods. Studies have documented a significant loss of appetite among dogs, behavioral changes such as excessive chewing or licking, and changes in sleep patterns.

In fact, a 1996 study by the ASPCA noted a majority of dogs (over 66%!) showed significant behavioral changes in at least four different areas following the death of a loved one.

Many dog owners have recounted stories about their dogs wandering aimlessly about the house, searching for their lost pack member. It's not unusual for dogs (again like us) to need some sort of closure before moving forward in the grieving process. Experts recommend allowing a dog to "scent" their lost companion or family member to fully process and better understand the loss, but this isn't always possible. Using the clothing of a loved one or fur clippings from their deceased companion helps him to process the event on his own level.

How can you help your dog through his grief? Dogs are creatures of habit, and something as simple as maintaining a daily routine will help. Keeping a daily schedule of exercise not only provides a sense of normalcy for your dog, it also helps us maintain normalcy for ourselves. Also, the endorphins released during exercise can make both you and your dog feel better. It may be difficult in the days following a loss to do this, but these are important elements of processing not only your own feelings, but those of your dog.

It's also important to be aware of how your own behavior affects your dog's sense of balance and security. He will sense your changing emotions and energy levels, and a breakdown in your dog/owner dynamic can sometimes result in unwanted behaviors. Try not to allow feelings of loss to affect what you expect of your dog in terms of his manners. Without question, dogs do experience grief at the loss of a loved companion or family member.

However, by maintaining routine and discipline, and allowing your dog to process the event on its own terms, you can assist your four-legged best friend in ways that can also support our own journey toward recovery and normalcy.