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Dogs, just like people, can become depressed for several different reasons. The most common reasons for dogs to become depressed includes the death of a companion dog or pet, the loss of a loved family member, a person moving out the house, or a dog being rehomed to a new environment. For some breeds and dogs this is a short term sadness or despondency, but for other dogs depression and grieving can be a lifetime issue.
There are many stories about dogs the have grieved for their owners. One of the most famous stories is of an Akita in 1924 in Tokyo, Japan. The dog, named Hachika, would walk every day to the train station and wait for his owner who was a professor at the University. When the man passed away in 1925, Hachika continued to walk to the station every day for the next ten years and wait faithfully for his owner. After the dog passed away the community dedicated a statue to this loving dog.
This touching and true story is not unusual in that many dogs go through a grieving period whenever there is a change or loss in their life. There are some behavioral issues that can be addressed, but like for many people the grieving period will simply have to run its course. Dogs are pack animals, and losing a companion dog or even a family member either through a move or through death means that the dog no longer has the same position within the pack, and it may take him or her time to understand just what that new position is.
Many people believe that dogs do truly mourn the loss of a companion be it human or animal. Dogs will often become lethargic, refuse to eat, not want to exercise and may become possessive of the other dog or individuals things. This is very similar to the way that some people grieve or show depression after a loss.
Helping your dog
Although you may be feeling sad and somewhat lost after a member of the household has left or a pet has died, it is important to keep your dog on a routine. Since lethargic behavior and lack of appetite is common, consider increasing the time you spend with your dog through exercise and regular time for play and interaction. Even if you have a senior dog, lots of long, relaxing walks and new places to explore and investigate can help the dog retain interest in his or her environment, get more exercise, increase appetite and just get out of the depression stage.
You may also want to consider getting your dog into an obedience class that focuses on positive reinforcement methods. Not only will this give you and your dog time to spend together, but it will also provide some amount of socialization for your dog, regardless of his or her age. There are obedience classes for all types and ages of dogs, and there are also specialized classes such as agility, hunting, tracking, earthdog and retrieving and herding that your dog may really find enjoyable.
Add extra interaction time with your dog on a daily basis. Maybe increase the grooming routine from twice a week to every day to give you a few minutes to spend with the dog. You may also want to try to take your dog out with you more often, even if it is just for a ride in the car while you run errands.
Getting a new dog is often a snap decision that many people make when mourning the loss of a family pet. If you have an older dog, getting a puppy may actually create more challenges than resolve any issues. If the dog is younger or is a very active senior dog a puppy may be a good idea, although you really need to think about your dog before making this decision. Most of the time a puppy is the center of attention in the family, so if getting a puppy is going to take more family attention away from the mourning or grieving dog this is definitely not the right time for this option. If, however, the puppy will blend into the family and the existing dog will have just as much or more interaction with both the family and the puppy it may be an excellent choice.
If you have a senior dog that is despondent or grieving, perhaps a puppy is too much of a high energy companion. You may seriously wish to think about adopting a mature dog from a rescue. Most rescues have a foster placement system that allows the rescue to fairly accurately predict how the rescued dog will interact with another dog in the house. Rescues usually offer the option to return the dog should there be a compatibility problem between your existing dog and the rescue dog. The rescue dog should be well trained and have no bad behavioral issues that you will have to deal with. In addition your existing dog should be well trained and socialized to ensure that the transition goes smoothly. An obedience class where both your existing dog and the new rescue dog or puppy attend is often a great option if you have two people in the family that can attend.
There are medications that can be used for either short or long term depression issues in dogs. Just like with humans, these medications must be prescribed and monitored by a medical professional, in this case by your vet. These medications can have various side effects and some are not effective in every breed of dog and for every depression or grieving issue. Working closely with a behavioral specialist, talking to your vet and even contacting breeders that have a lot of experience with the breed can help you get specific information to help you pet. Keep in mind that time is needed in the grieving processing, both by yourself as the owner as well as by the dog.
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