When Dogs Grieve

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There’s something that needs to be said about dog grief — that is, the different feelings and behaviors of mourning that we dogs all experience upon the death of a canine friend.

Recently our pack leader, Spirit, passed away. I was with him at the vet’s office to provide him some additional comfort. I laid down near him so that our noses almost touched. Eventually, when he passed over, I turned my head away from his body and would not look at it anymore. This is something humans don’t often give us credit for, but we dogs know when the essence, or spirit, of another dog has gone. All that is left after passing is the biological suit. The suit isn’t the dog. The dog is the spirit that once resided in the suit.

For a dog, grief shows itself in all sorts of different ways. Some dogs become lethargic, upset, depressed, or even ill. Some dogs lose their appetite, while others go through a change in behavior. Still others become restless, or even bark more. And some dogs show no outward signs that humans can readily identify as part of a grieving process.

Yet I am here to tell you that for a dog, grief is real, and grief is inevitable. Some of us may not be overt in our grieving process, and some of us may have a very short moment of grief before our instincts direct us to “move on.” If you think about it, plenty of humans are the same way.

In my pack, the grief reactions have been all over the place. Thunderbear has had a loss of appetite, Buckaroo is more hyper, and Cake Walk is more clingy. In my case, I have kept my grief to myself. Since the passing of Spirit, I am now the Big Kahuna; I not only have my canine pack members, but also my human pack members to take care of.

For the humans reading this, there are helpful things you can do to help us through the grieving process:

  • Teach us something new. A new trick, a new skill, or even a new game. Sometimes in our dog grief, we will invent a new game if left to our own devices. Coming from my own experience, however, you humans don’t really take to Pounce-on-the-Cat or Bury-the-Shoes.
  • Spend more time with us. Physical interaction promotes joy, connectedness, and helps release oxytocin, a hormone that increases the sense of well-being. Not to mention, it helps strengthen emotional bonds for both human and canine alike.
  • Stimulate our appetite with a favorite food. Thunderbear loves raw or cooked buffalo, and getting it has helped him eat more at those times when grief was getting the better of him.
  • Don’t be too quick to get rid of the deceased dog’s bed or favorite toys. It’s comforting to us to smell our friend’s scent, and besides, its fun to keep the cats from commandeering a new resting spot.

As you can see, the processes of dog grief and human grief have a lot in common. Unfortunately we canines cannot ease our sorrow in a glass or two of good Chardonnay or Merlot, nor can we go on a chocolate binge or eat the funny brownies that make humans giggle. Personally, I would love to sit on the couch and eat Mac ‘n’ Cheese or dive into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. I also wouldn’t mind having a beer (and the TV remote), but on this farm, all the Guinness is for the horses, and I haven’t quite figured out how to get this Lady and the Tramp DVD to work.

Kemosabe is a three year old Australian shepherd who, when he’s not on the road with Tigger, likes to hang out at BioStar — taste-testing products and herding the FedEx delivery guys.

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