Dog grief is often something that's ignored or made to seem unimportant in our society. In actual fact, losing your dog can be just as devastating as losing a close family member. After all, many of us see our dogs more than we see some of of our friends and family. Our dogs are there with us every day, when we wake up in the morning and when we go to bed at night.
Apart from dealing with your own grief over the loss of your dog, you may find yourself dealing with the opposite situation - your dog grieving over the loss of a person, or another dog. Dog grief is real too, just like human grief. It's important to understand what your dog goes through when someone close to him dies.
Dealing with Dog Loss
It's an unfortunate fact that most of us will outlive our dogs. Man's (and woman's) best friend, sadly, has a much shorter lifespan than the average human. The longest Jack Russell lifespan is about 20 years, but that is very rare. Most live around 10-14 years on average. Eventually we have to face that emotional point in every dog owner's life - saying goodbye to our best friend.
Tips for Coping with Dog Grief
First of all - ignore those people who say things like, "You'll be okay. It's just a dog. You can get another one." As dog lovers, we know better. It wasn't "just a dog" - it was YOUR dog and it was unique. The bond between dogs and humans should never be belittled in this way.
So pay no attention to these people - in fact, if you feel the need, put them in their place. Maybe one day they will understand the life enrichment dog ownership can bring.
Don't pretend losing your dog is not important, or think it's unnatural to be overwhelmed with grief at this point. It's completely natural. You have to deal with dog loss in the same way you would deal with losing a human friend.
Kubler-Ross's 5 Stages of Grief
Denial. This is the "It was just a dog" phase. You may try to deny the hurt exists and pretend it's not important to avoid facing the pain.
Anger. You may feel that the situation is unfair. This is especially true if your dog dies in an accident or of an illness, rather than old age. If you had to put your dog down, you may feel angry at yourself. Just remember you made a decision to stop your dog from suffering more than necessary.
Bargaining. You start to think of all the things you would give up in your life in exchange for having your dog back.
Depression. A deep sadness overcomes you and you feel like nothing is really worth doing.
Acceptance. You accept that your dog had a happy life with you and celebrate the time you had together.
Not everyone will go through all of these stages. This is a general guideline to help you understand what you may be feeling. Don't try to skip ahead to acceptance - stay with what you're feeling in each stage, feel it fully, and understand it.
Your Dog's Grief
Dogs are capable of experiencing a range of emotions, just like humans. Dog grief is one of those emotions.
There is a well known story of a dog named Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier who lived in Edinburgh with his owner in the late 19th Century. After his owner, John Gray, died of tuberculosis, Bobby stayed at his grave site for the following 14 years, leaving only to find food and shelter from the elements. There is now a statue of Bobby near the graveyard.
This is not only a testament to the intense loyalty between dogs and humans, but also of the intensity of the emotion of loss that a dog can feel. Many people think that dogs simply pick up on the grief of their owners. While it is true that dogs are sensitive to the emotions of their people, they can experience their own, separate sense of canine grief.
The grieving process for a dog is very similar to that for a human. The dog may become lethargic and uninterested in play or activity. He may lose his appetite, or display other changes in behavior, such as barking more (or less).
As with humans, it will take time for your dog to recover from a loss. Treat your dog the way you'd treat a friend in the same situation. Give him time to heal, and focus on doing things he enjoys - try to initiate favorite games and offer favorite treats. Have plenty of "hands on" time with your dog.
Don't Rush The Process
Don't try to force anything when it comes to dog grief. Allow the emotions to happen and let time do its healing work. Don't rush out and replace the departed dog with a new puppy. Focus on celebrating the life of your dog and perhaps starting up an old hobby until you have healed somewhat. Refocus on your family and life priorities. Then consider bringing in a new pet.