When our yellow lab Jake died, our chocolate lab Couper became a dog in mourning. He took to his bed. While deeply mourning the loss myself, I was trying to help him cope with his loss. Knowing in advance what to expect, can enable you to help your surviving pet. It is okay for them to mourn and likely your surviving pet will mourn the loss. Understand that he too is grieving. Let him go through the process and let him know it's okay for him to grieve. Grieving and healing is a process, and just like people, each pet will move through it at their own pace.
Your pet may exhibit behaviors you don't understand. Immediately following Jake's death, Couper would start taking Jake's toys and putting them in his own bed. This was usually a ritual he reserved for one purpose; to annoy Jake.
He would also constantly alternate beds; switching every few minutes between his bed and Jake's. Why was he exhibiting these behaviors? Research showed that what he was doing was trying to call Jake to come to him. He remembered things he has done in the past that caused his buddy to come to him. So he constantly repeated these rituals thinking that if I steal Jake's toys, or sleep in his bed, Jake has always shown up to put me in my place and will therefore show up again.
Couper exhibited a number of these behaviors and we let him go through the process feeling it was necessary for him to understand that Jake was not coming back.
We briefly tried removing Jake's favorite things but it only made the situation worse and it is not something recommended. Having the other pet's toys around may help him understand the situation and provide comfort.
Helping Others to Help Your Pet
Every so often you come across people who seem to be completely clueless. I remember someone saying to Couper in a very excited voice "where's Jake"? His reaction was to go running around trying to find him. I caught up with him, hugged and reminded him that Jake was gone. Did he understand my words? Likely not, but he understood my sad tone.
How To Help The Surviving Pet Move Forward
At first, we just let Couper grieve. After all, we were feeling the same way. We wanted to wallow in our sorrow, wrap it tightly around us and just shut everything else out.
After a week of Couper not getting any closer to moving forward, we started to get involved in trying to help him in different ways. Watch the video of Couper interacting with his own little dog whisperer. We also set up playdates, both with people he liked and with dogs he enjoyed. He would be thrilled while they were here but the minute they left he was back in bed.
Pets Do Mourn. Proof
It was now 12 days after Jake's death and although neither my husband nor myself felt like it, it was time to make our annual trip to Florida for the winter. We both felt that this was either going to be a great thing for Couper or a disastrous move for him.
Couper normally would spend most of the day looking out the car window during our travel south. This time was different. He barely moved. It was heartbreaking to watch.
However, each night as we got into the hotel, Couper became his old self. Happy, funny, and full of personality. Yet as we would head back into the car for the next leg of the journey, Couper's depression returned. We soon realized that every place that carried Jake's scent, caused depression. The hotel rooms did not have any of Jake's scent, and this gave Couper a break from his sadness.
After several days traveling, the day had arrived. We were at our winter home. We drove up the driveway to our place in Florida and Couper was beyond excited. We opened the car door and he ripped his seatbelt anxious to get out, jumped out of the car and made a mad dash into the house. He ran into every room. We know he was looking for Jake. I imagine he was thinking "Hey, Jake's not really gone, he's waiting for me here!" The excitement as he searched every corner of every room was heartbreaking to watch. His depression set in again immediately following the discovery that Jake wasn't in Florida either.
We decided to take him over to visit his all time favorite pal in Florida; a funny pit bull mix whom Couper adored. We did this day after day; making sure each day was filled with old friends as well as many new friends.
Fortunately this worked. I'm sure he still has the odd sad day; but his funny, easy going personality has finally returned. Jake was the only pack Couper ever knew. It was a difficult transition for him to realize he no longer had a pack.
Let your surviving pet know it's okay to mourn but also they need your guidance to move them towards a healthy recovery.
** Couper has now made his journey to just over the rainbow bridge and is reunited with his very best friend, Jake.