How to help your dog cope with the death of a housemate dog.
Dogs Don’t Understand Death
I’m not so sure it’s shallow. Dogs probably don’t have the cognitive ability to understand permanence or death. Behaviorally healthy dogs take separations in stride--they don’t lose their marbles when we take one dog to the vet for a checkup and leave the other one at home. They do fine when we go on vacation and leave them with their friend the dog sitter. I believe that often, as far as Dogalini’s concerned, the late Zippy isn’t home right now, and that’s all there is to it. The longer Zippy stays away, the more Dogalini gets used to the new situation and accepts it as normal.
However, dogs are exquisitely sensitive to human body language and tone. And we humans understand death and permanence all too well. Our distress at losing a beloved companion shows itself in our voices and our movements. Our dogs may respond with anxiety when we cry. Familiar routines may suddenly have changed. Like all animals, including us, dogs are most at ease when their environment is predictable—and your other dog’s death may change many things about your life in ways your surviving dog can’t predict or control.
Some Dogs Lose Their Appetites or Act Clingy
Some dogs lose their appetites for a few days after a companion’s death. Or they may act restless or clingy, or vocalize more. Sometimes behavior problems show up--for instance, there’s a condition some behavior specialists call “isolation distress,” closely related to separation anxiety. A dog with isolation distress doesn’t panic at the departure of any particular person or animal but only when left alone. The condition may be masked when two dogs live together, since usually either both or neither is home.
Household Dynamics Can Change When One Dog Dies
If you had more than two dogs and one dies, the relationship between the surviving dogs may change. Perhaps the dog who died buffered their interactions, for better or worse. Sometimes the surviving dog blossoms, if the dog who died was a bit of a bully. If the dog who died was a confident friend, then a timid dog may act more timid in the aftermath of the loss. Add to that the surviving dog’s response to the distress of the humans in the family, and you can see why my reader’s shy dog Greta might be acting more afraid than she did while her friend Oyster was alive.