Inspired by a visit to a family who had lost 2 of their 3 dogs in a relatively short space of time, and seen the detrimental effect on their surviving dog, Harry, I thought I would explore the effect of losing a dog on your pack in an article today.
The dog is a pack animal, and understands that there is a hierarchy within the pack, and safety in numbers, so the loss of a dog can have a significant impact on those who are left behind. In Harry’s case, he had become noticeably stressed around the house, and had developed aggressive tendencies to other dogs. Every case would be different, and how much of an impact it could have in your pack will depend on a few factors:
The role of the lost dogs
In the case of Harry, he was not a natural leader type, and his owners didn’t know that one of their other dogs was taking care of situations in Harry’s eyes. So when the natural leader was lost, the effect of losing this dog, was that Harry and his remaining mate vied between them for who was top dog. And when his competitor then passed, it was down to Harry to take care of everyone else. Something that was too overwhelming for his little furry shoulders, and he became noticeably stressed.
The circumstances in which you lose him/her
If your remaining dog knows that the pack mate has died, they will be able to acknowledge and accept the situation and move on. However the usual scenario in a domestic environment is that the poorly dog is taken out of the house and never returns. This can cause stress and anxiety for the remaining dog; thinking that their pack mate is lost and may be in danger. In Harry’s case his pack mates were ill, so he would probably have known that they didn’t have long left. To limit this effect of losing a dog on your pack, if you are in a financial position to be able to afford the extra expense, I would recommend that if you need to have one of your dogs put to sleep for health reasons, then request that the vet comes to your home, so your remaining dogs can see the body and understand what has happened.
Your behaviour towards the remaining dog
Not only will there have been a significant change in the dynamics of your pack, which could see your remaining dog(s) having to step up and take on different/more important roles; they will also most likely see a change in your behaviour towards them too. You will obviously go through a period of mourning, and you will probably become more affectionate towards your remaining dogs. This will make them more attached to you, and feel more responsible for you than before. Harry’s owner realised she had done this, because she was worried about him, she had started to fuss him much more than she previously had. Harry didn’t understand what this fuss meant, and it added to him feeling overwhelmed about what he was required to do now.
How do you minimise the effect of losing a dog on your pack?
Your remaining dog will need the new hierarchy of the pack clarifying for them. They will be happiest if they know that they are not the pack leader, as with that comes a lot of responsibility and stress. Harry’s owners have now been taught how to do this, and for the first time since he lost his pack mates, he was able to sleep downstairs, during the day time (below). He previously would continually pace, or lie watching them.
It’s early days for Harry and his owners have a lot of work to do to convince him that it’s okay for him to let them be responsible for the long term, and he will then be able to stop defending his pack from other dogs that he sees on walks. If you want to find out how to convince your remaining dogs that they don’t have anything to worry about, then you can start by reading “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell, which will give you an understanding of how to gain pack leadership. If you want some specific 1-2-1 help then get in touch!