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How to Help a Grieving Dog: Advice for Supporting Your Canine Through Loss

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

how to help a grieving dog

Losing a loved one is never easy, and it’s not just humans who feel the pain of grief. Dogs can also experience the loss of a companion, whether it’s a human care or another pet. It’s our responsibility to help our dogs cope with their grief and provide them with the support they need during this difficult time.

Dogs thrive on structure and predictability, so maintaining their daily routine as much as possible can help them feel more secure and less anxious. This includes feeding them at the same time each day, taking them for walks on their usual schedule, and spending quality time with them as you normally would.

We need to understand what our dogs go through when grieving so that we can know how to comfort them. On our topic today, we will refer to a studies on canine grief to help you better grasp what grieving is and what you can do to support your dog all the way, as well as some of my personal experience as a trainer and behaviorist, dealing with grieving dogs in my own home.

Grieving dogs may not understand death, but they understand loss and suffering in their way. However, they may know that their companion is no longer there but do not understand how. I know this well from my own experience after losing my beloved Neapolitan Mastiff, Hudson. One of my other dogs, Josie, suffered deeply from this loss and I will use our experience to relate our journey through this hardest of times.

Any action expressed by the remaining pets following the loss of their companion animal or human care is a part of the grieving process. This can include changes in appetite, behavior, and mood.

Recognizing Grief in Dogs Through Personal Experience

A dog lying down looking sad after a the loss of loved one

In March of 2020, as the world braced for uncertainty, I welcomed Josie, an emaciated puppy with soulful eyes, into a home already warmed by the presence of Hudson, my gentle giant Neapolitan Mastiff. From a hesitant introduction to sharing a bed, the bond that blossomed between Josie and Hudson became my daily reminder of the profound connection that can exist between canines.

The Unseen Tie: Grieving in Dogs

The loss of Hudson to congestive heart failure left an unmistakable void. As I grappled with my own sorrow, Josie’s behavior shifted palpably — clinging to my side, echoing my sadness, and eventually manifesting a reluctance to let me out of her sight. It was a journey through grief that many pet owners may recognize but not understand.

Drawing on my experience and consulting with veterinarians, I’ve come to understand these signs as common indicators of canine mourning:

  • Altered Sleeping Patterns: Just as Josie began to sleep in the bed with me, dogs often seek comfort in the scent and presence of their owners.
  • Changes in Appetite: A dog’s eating habits can fluctuate, much like humans’, when they are grieving.
  • Behavioral Changes: The previously independent Josie becoming hyper attached signaled a deeper emotional distress akin to separation anxiety.
  • Restlessness: Restlessness in dogs refers to a state of agitation, nervousness, or an inability to remain calm and settled. Restless actions in dogs typically involve constant movement, pacing, fidgeting, and an overall inability to relax. 
  • Lethargy: They may become lethargic and lose interest in their favorite activities when they are grieving.

By recognizing these behaviors as signs of mourning, we open the door to helping our pets heal, guided by empathy and informed action.

Dogs can experience a range of emotions when grieving, including sadness, depression, and even anger. According to Dr Eric Ruhland, 86% of dogs show changes after the loss of a companion pet or human. These changes can include being clingy, avoiding people, and avoiding places they used to frequent. 

Note that not all dogs are the same. Some may not show any grieving signs. In fact, some are reported to enjoy the new attention after their companion pet dies. Other dogs can express sorrow because you are grieving. Dogs are good at sensing our emotional state, including stress and depression.

Strategies for Healing: Coping with Canine Grief 

A woman walking her dog after a loss as a way for them both to cope with grief

The journey with Josie, post-Hudson, was one of trial, error, and eventual understanding. In maintaining our routine — daily walks, regular feeding times — I aimed to provide stability. Yet, the shadow of separation anxiety crept in, unnoticed at first against the backdrop of our shared grief.

Helping a suffering dog is critical, as dogs can experience sadness just like humans. Here are some immediate steps to assist a grieving dog:

1. Maintaining Routine

Maintaining a routine is crucial for dogs, especially during times of stress. Try to keep their daily routine as consistent as possible. Ensure they eat at the same time, go for walks at the same time, and sleep in the same place.

With Josie, keeping everything the same in terms of meal times, daily hikes and the rest of it was critical.  Experts agree that consistency is key not only to train a dog, but to help them adjust to a new normal. According to Dr. Susan Zeitlin, keeping a steady routine after a loss is not only critical for your dog to cope, but also for you.

2. Providing Comfort

Providing comfort is essential for dogs who are grieving. Ensure they have a comfortable bed, blankets, and toys. You can also provide them with a warm hug or a gentle pat to help them feel secure and loved.

In the case of Josie, who previously shared a bed with Hudson, she now moved into my bed and this was a comfort to both of us. However, it also was a start of new problem that would develop; Josie was becoming hyper attached and what started as means of comforting each other, would eventually develop into separation anxiety.

3. Increasing Interaction

Increasing interaction with your dog is an excellent way to help them cope with grief. Put your phone down and spend quality time with them, play with them, and take them for extra walks. This will help them feel more connected to you and less lonely.

4. Provide Your Dog Items With The Scent Of The Lost Person or Pet

Providing your dog with items that have the scent of the lost person or pet can help them feel closer to them. You can give them a piece of clothing or a toy that belonged to the lost person or pet. In the case of Josie, I moved Hudson’s bed to my working desk  so she could lay on it beside me when I worked.

5. Increase Playtime

Playing with your dog is an excellent way to keep them engaged. Try to increase the amount of playtime you have with them. This will help them be more energetic and less sad. Playtime is often overlooked as a means to ensure our dog’s well-being. But it’s so effective at reducing stress, it is actually part of a model to assess a dog’s quality of life.

So, it’s vital when going through the grieving process to take 10 minutes a day to play fetch or tug and flood their brains with feel-good hormones.

6. Increase Exercise

Increasing exercise is another great way to help your dog cope with sadness. Take them for longer walks or runs, or try a new activity like swimming or hiking. This is about far more than just the physical well-being that exercise promotes. 

Studies show that when owners are inspired to spend more time with their dogs and be active, there’s a sort of feedback loop that occurs. Not only are our dogs happier, but we are too. 

7. Visit New Places

Visiting new places can help your dog feel more stimulated and less sad. Take them to a new park or beach, try a new walking route, or explore new activities or doggy sports.

8. Invest in Environmental Enrichment

Investing in more environmental enrichment can help your dog feel more stimulated and less sad. Consider getting them puzzle toys, treat-dispensing toys, or a new bed. Why do this? Well this suggestion is more for you than your dog. You see, as much as your dog will appreciated a new toy, buying your dog a toy actually makes you happier.

Yes, spending money on our pet’s makes us happier.  And when we are happier, it becomes far easier for our dogs to overcome their grief. Remember, that our dogs are extremely empathetic, and our grief will make theirs worse. The more we do to soothe and emotionally regulate ourselves, the easier it will be for our dogs to recover.

9. Give them time

It is essential to give your dog time to grieve. Take your time with your dog and expect them to bounce back immediately. Grieving is a process, and it takes time. Be patient with them, and provide them with all the love and support they need.

10. Heal Our Own Grief To Heal Our Dogs

When we wade through the murky waters of grief, our canine companions swim alongside us, often mirroring our emotions with an intensity that is both profound and moving. In recognizing and addressing our own sorrow, we inadvertently construct a bridge for our dogs to cross over their own rivers of grief.

It’s a mutual journey of healing; as we engage in self-care, maintain routines, and seek joy amidst the sorrow, our dogs take cues from our behavior. They learn resilience from our resolve, comfort in our continued presence, and stability from the structures we uphold in our daily lives. In essence, as we chart our course towards healing, we lay down a map for our dogs to follow.

The emotional tenor we set can act as a beacon of recovery for them, illuminating a pathway out of the shadows cast by loss. Our open acknowledgment of grief, coupled with the conscious nurturing of our mental health, not only aids in our own recovery but also serves as a testament to our dogs that they, too, can find solace and eventually, a return to happiness after loss.

Long-Term Strategies for Helping a Grieving Dog

Gradual Changes

One of the best ways to help a distressed dog is to introduce gradual changes to their routine. This can help them adjust to their new normal without feeling overwhelmed. For example, you may want to gradually reduce the amount of time your dog spends alone or change up their daily walk routine.

Dog Therapy

Dog therapy is a great way to help your dog cope with their sorrow. There are several types of therapy available, including massage therapy, acupuncture, and aromatherapy. These therapies can help your dog relax and reduce their stress levels.

New Companionship

While it may be tempting to get a new dog right away, it’s important to wait until your grieving dog is ready. When you do decide to get a new companion for your dog, make sure to introduce them slowly and carefully. This can help prevent any potential conflicts and ensure a smooth transition.

The Path Forward: Embracing a New Normal

Today, Josie and I are learning to find balance. The journey has taught me the value of understanding, patience, and the need to seek out resources when our own expertise reaches its limits. For those walking a similar path, know that it’s not just about overcoming grief or separation anxiety — it’s about transforming our relationship with our pets through every challenge we face together.

When to Seek Professional Help

If your dog is exhibiting prolonged symptoms of grief or significant behavioral changes, it may be time to seek professional help. Here are some signs to look out for:

Prolonged Symptoms

If your dog is experiencing grief for an extended period, it may be time to seek help. Some common symptoms of prolonged grief in dogs include:

  • Loss of appetite;
  • Lethargy;
  • Avoidance of social interaction;
  • Excessive vocalization or whining; and
  • Sleeping more than usual.

Behavioral Changes

If your dog’s habit has changed significantly since the loss of a companion, it may be time to talk to a behaviorist. Some common changes in grieving dogs include:

  • Aggression or irritability;
  • Destructive habits;
  • Separation anxiety;
  • Excessive grooming or licking; and
  • Inappropriate elimination.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do dogs grieve other dogs?

Yes, dogs grieve the loss of other dogs. Dogs are social animals and form strong bonds with their pack mates. When one of their pack mates dies, they feel the loss just like humans do.

What are the signs of a dog grieving?

Signs of a grieving dog include loss of appetite, lethargy, disinterest in activities they once enjoyed, whining or whimpering, and seeking out the deceased dog’s scent or belongings.

How long do dogs grieve the loss of another dog?

The length of time a dog grieves varies from dog to dog. Some dogs may only grieve for a few days, while others may take weeks or even months to fully process their loss.

When the alpha dog dies, what should you do?

When the alpha dog dies, it can be a difficult time for the rest of the pack. It’s important to establish a new pack leader and maintain a consistent routine to help the remaining dogs feel secure.

How do you help a dog cope with the loss of another dog?

To help a dog cope with the loss of another dog, provide them with extra attention and love. Keep their routine consistent and try to maintain a sense of normalcy. It may also help to provide them with the deceased dog’s scent or belongings.

If I had two dogs and one died, should I get another?

It’s important to wait until you and your remaining dog have had time to grieve before considering getting another dog. When you do decide to get another dog, it’s important to introduce them slowly and carefully to ensure a smooth transition.


Dogs grief for their loss, too, and they need time and support to heal. Recognize the signs of grief in your dog can go a long way in helping them cope without pressure to get back to normal. It is in our control as dog owners to provide comfort and support by being there for our dogs and engaging in activities to get their minds off the loss.

Keep the dog’s routine consistent and consider asking for help from a behaviorist if the grieving period persists or becomes severe. With your love and support, your dog will eventually be able to move forward and find joy again.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.