Dog Behavior – Is It Grief or Relief?

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Many of us have experienced the loss of a dog and those of us with multi-dog households have dealt with not only our own mourning but possibly our dogs mourning the loss of their sibling.
 
None of our dogs have been ‘close’ to each other – it was more a mutual respect and agreement to co-exist. When Sally, Tino & Becca each passed, the remaining dog didn’t seem to mourn, but just went about their business.
 
We’ve previously written about Tino’s perception of sickness & loss of a neighbor dog, but other than that experience we haven’t noticed any real changes in our dogs behavior when their sibling dies.
 


 

A few months ago, my sister lost one of her dogs, Tally to hemangiosarcoma. Her second dog, Taj has exhibited a real change in behavior since Tally’s passing. Taj & Tally had a complicated relationship. Tally came to the household as a young pup when Tally was already 5+ years old and well established as head-of-household. Two female dogs in a home can be a challenge and these two were no exception. While they existed in fairly peaceful harmony 95% of the time, that 5% was always a possibility. They had a couple of battles that were real doozies. Never any serious injuries, but scary just the same.
 
Taj has been quite sick over the past year starting with a severe case of pneumonia that landed her in the hospital for over a week. After that, her senior years were really evident. At 13, she was noticeably weaker, slower and the pneumonia really set her back. But, since Tally’s death, Taj has experienced a revitalization. She has gotten stronger, more relaxed and is more playful.
 
Another friend of ours who had two dogs with a conflicted relationship reports a similar behavior change since the death of one of them.
 
I uncovered some research about dogs mourning the loss of a sibling, but very little about dogs behavior, stress, or health changing for the better after the loss of a sibling, but obviously it happens and it seems to make sense. If there was a conflict or an undercurrent of animosity between the pets, then when that irritant is removed, there is a sense of relief. It would be the same with humans.
 
How about you – what has your experience been?

 

Additional Readings:

Dogs May Mourn as Deeply as Humans Do

Do Dogs Feel Grief?

Never Do This After Losing a Pet

Dog in mourning: Helping our pets cope with loss

 

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12 Comments

  1. I have seen both ends of the spectrum. My present dog was very sad and depressed when his “girlfriend” passed. She was with us less than a year. In my mother’s household, when the Alpha male (Huck) passed, ‘Joey’ at first was still very tentative. But with a little encouragement, he was overjoyed at being the only male and acted like a puppy for quite a number of months.
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  2. Mom says Katie was sad and spent over a month always searching for Trine after she passed. Katie was young and I think Trine was a mother figure for her. She also got to go into the operating room and give Trine a kiss before she passed. We don’t know if she really understood what was going on or not, but she was lost for quite a while without her. Mom is worried about what I will do if Katie leaves us as we have been close for about ten years.
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  3. Bentley was very sad and depressed after Tucker died. That is how Pierre came to live with us when my daughter moved. He came over and Bentley suddenly perked up and ran to play. ♥
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  4. The biggest change I saw was when K, a 6 month old puppy, lost her elderly brother. K was present when he was euthanized, and it may have been too much for her. When we arrived home, she developed a bunch of crazy fears, some of which never went away for her whole life. This also could have been because she was so bonded with her brother. She spent most of her puppyhood snuggled against his side. They were harmonious, right from the first day.
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  5. We are going through these changes in our home right now. My 13 year-old male Collie mix passed away after a long illness. He was the world to my now 21-month old puppy and she is having a terrible time. She wasn’t present when my boy died, but she spent the last week by his side day and night. Since his passing a week ago her eating habits have changed and she is fearful when we go for a walk. I’m hoping things will improve soon.
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  6. One of my clients recently lost his Husky girl Haley to cancer. Her brother Milo (from another litter, not related by blood at all), has been missing her terribly every since and continues to look for her every day. Haley passed 3 months ago, but her & Milo shared a very close bond. I hope that Milo will start missing her a little less as time moves on – I suspect that he might be grieving along with his owner who misses Haley terribly himself.

    I have not yet experienced the opposite end of the spectrum where a dog appears revitalized/relieved at the death of his or her K9 roommate, but I could see it happen.
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  7. When Sam lost his OES ‘sister’ 5 years ago, he definitely grieved. Even though she ruled the household with an iron paw and did not suffer canine silliness from him, the grief was lengthy and profound. He still does double takes whenever he sees an OES and sure he’s thinking the new guy is his old fur-pal.

  8. The gang didn’t seem to mind when Norman passed, I think it was because I had 4 dogs at the time and there were others to fill the void.
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  9. When we lost Blue, Rodrigo and Sydney mourned. Our walks were more quiet and calm, they were more mellow in the house, and it was sad to see. When we brought home the puppies, they were not happy and it took about a month for them to realize that the puppies were staying. After trying to ignore them, correct them, and then mount them – the dogs accepted them and now Rodrigo and Zoey are great friends and it’s nice to see. It used to be Rodrigo and Blue who were always together.
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