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Monday, April 19, 2010

Dog grief or human grief?

Lou showed up at an agility trial last weekend with just one dog, not her usual two.  Her old-timer, Buck, had succumbed to cancer just a few days earlier.  Lou looked dejected, as did her surviving dog Coco, a nice (but also older) tri-colored Aussie.  Not surprisingly, their agility runs lacked spark.  Neither of their hearts seemed into it.

Before the trial was over, I expressed my condolences to her over the loss of Buck, and asked her how Coco was handling it. She confided in me that Coco missed her old pal and still looked for him around every corner.

"Do you have a younger dog waiting in the wings?" I asked.

"No," she said.  "It took me over a year after I lost my last agility dog before I could even think about getting a new one.  So Coco is it right now."

"I bet she'd love to have a new friend," I offered.  "It would be really good for her."

"I suppose it would, but I don't know if I can handle it," Lou said.

"Then do it for Coco and not for yourself.  If it would make Coco's life happier to have a new, younger dog to raise, you ought to do it.  Put her well-being first."

Lou pondered my words.  "I'd never thought of it that way before," she said.  "It really would be good for her.  I'll give that some consideration."

Of course I didn't tell Lou that she probably needed a new puppy as much or more than Coco did.  I'm a strong advocate of filling such voids in our hearts with new puppies, as soon as possible.  A pup is such a time-intensive and emotionally uplifting project that we literally don't have extended time to grieve the passing of the pup's predecessor.  Nor are we under any social obligation to feel miserable for a certain length of time following the death of a beloved dog.  Life is short!  Move on to the next young dog who desperate needs you, and the pain of losing the last one will lessen.

Dogs live "in the moment."  They are creatures of routine.  When the routine changes (an old dog leaves the pack), their routine is upset...but only temporarily, until a new routine is established.   The temporary upset is what we humans may refer to as the dogs' "grieving process."  The best way to help your dog through this process is to establish a new routine (i.e., with a new puppy).   

Remember that if you continue to telegraph your own grief and unhappiness, your surviving dog will be unhappy too.  So do your old dog (and yourself) a favor; go find a puppy. You'll both be a lot happier!

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