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Can a Dog Grieve?

My husband passed away in the hospital almost 2 months ago and our dog seems to be coming out of his blue mood but I find when I leave the house he gets very upset.  For example, I left the house yesterday and he had chewed his tail into a wet, stringy mass, was over excited to see me, greeting me like he would a pack member, nipping and circling and yipping at me.  It is almost like he thinks I won’t be returning home to him.  Is there some way I can help him.
Dear L.F.
The word anthropomorphism often pops up in situations like this. Many people seem to think it means; the attributing of human characteristics to a non-human. It is actually the attributing of uniquely human characteristics to non-humans. Is mourning a uniquely human characteristic? Can a dog become depressed or be overwhelmed with anxiety, grieve, have compassion?
One might attribute the behavior change not to your husband’s passing but as reaction to change in general and that you would have seen the same symptoms had your dog been boarded for an extended time, or if a long established day to day schedule had been changed.
I might have been one of those people until I saw a video recently of a dog risking its life to save another dog on an extremely busy freeway. In it the dog that had been hit by a car lies in the middle of one lane and the other runs out and with its paws drags it out of harms way. I’ve never seen anything like it and can’t explain it with conventional dog behaviour wisdom. If a dog can perform a compassionate heroic act, grieving for a deceased family member is not a stretch. I have the video in my next newsletter so watch for it if you’ve subscribed.
This may be one of those occasions where one of the anti-depressants tailored for dogs might help. However, in my opinion very few veterinarians prescribe the drug correctly. They aren’t provided with any realistic support from the drug company as to what the behaviour modification component should encompass other then some superficial “shake your keys etc.” to desensitize your dog strategies.
I have without success, suggested/pleaded with the manufacturer to provide a better resource like a small instruction manual, one for the vets prescribing and the other for clients. I’ve even tried to appeal to their pocket books as well. People abandon this treatment option because they don’t see results far more often then those that do. I know for a fact that this is because they were not advised properly as to efficacy timelines and have been offered few or silly behaviour modification strategies.
Here are two things I always recommend for stressed dogs. The first is exercise. I mean tongue hanging to the ground exercise, not a walk around the block. Ideally timed before you go out. This will get the  “feel good” endorphins flowing. The mind component is equally important but tougher to engage when the dog is highly anxious. I use a marrow bone as it’s a rare dog that doesn’t enjoy a good bone. Test the dog on a bone a little at a time for a few days before you leave it alone with one. Once satisfied, twenty minutes before you leave give the dog the bone. Then fifteen minutes later take it away. Then as you’re going out the door give it back. The idea is to get the dog’s mind into the chewing zone rather then the worry you’ll never come back zone. Find a balanced trainer in your area for more ideas.
John Wade

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