Saturday, 12 November 2011


Dogs can suffer from depression and/or grief for many reasons. Depression and/or grief may be triggered by:

  • The passing of a loved one (another dog, cat or other non- human animal companion or human companion);
  • When someone that the dog is close to (human or non-human) goes away for a short or extended period of time;
  • When the dog's human or non-human companion is ill, depressed or grieving.
If your dog is depressed and grieving over loss, your dog may become lethargic, not want to eat, not want to do anything but sleep. They may fixate - for example, on the door waiting for their beloved companion to arrive.

When your dog is depressed he/she really needs you to help her rise above depression. Feeling grief is good and natural and allows us to appreciate all we loved and will continue to love about someone we were close to. To honour this state (respect and acknowledge it) is sensible and wise as to move forward and beyond we must pass through this state. The key is to move forward and pass through. If you are still grieving it reinforces your dog’s state of grief and depression. Now it is pretty difficult for you not to grieve but what you can do is work with your dog, as a team to pull each other through this time.

If you feel bad for your dog you will reinforce his/her depression - you give your dog the message that she is in a state that she can and should remain in. This message will hamper and could completely disable her from passing through the state and forward. Instead respect the state but treat her with calm, confident love and encourage her to do the things she normally enjoys doing. If you can be patient and push yourself to get her out and about - if you can relax and enjoy seeing her engaging, she will work with you and move forward beyond this grieving stage.

At this time more than any other times you need to help her reconnect with the dog that she is. Take her for brisk daily walks, if you can walk her with other dogs, bring her to a dog park, and bring her to pet supply stores where she will be encouraged to use her nose - explore and engage.

When we sit and mourn we get more depressed, when we don't get out and active we feel more depressed. Physical activity releases chemicals in our bodies that make us feel better - so too for dogs. You need to get her to engage with the outside world on a daily basis and expend energy - this will start to lift her spirit.

How we feel profoundly effects our dogs and resonates with them. If you are confident and committed to getting her out and about on a daily basis she will start to re-engage with life. Psychological stress also takes a toll on our bodies' good flora - the good bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract (GI Tract) - this is also true for a dog's GI tract. The GI tract part of the immune system and is one of the body's first lines of defense against invasion by microbes and parasites. Lack of balance in the GI tract's flora can also contribute to anxiety, depression and lethargy. You may want to consider adding a probiotic to your dog's diet - either by adding fresh foods that are naturally high in probiotics or by adding a good probiotic supplement.

A lack of balance in the amount of Omega Fatty Acids can also contribute to depression. Commercially manufactured dry dog food  (and I have looked at many) is not - despite what the manufacturer may claim 'nutritionally complete'. If you are buying per-prepared raw food for your dog you still need to supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids. To protect your dog's mental and physical health, your dog should be ingesting good quality omega-fatty acids in a ratio of 2 parts Omega-3 to 1 part Omega-6 on a daily basis. Take a look at the nutritional facts on the product you are feeding your dog - you will see the Omegas are not balanced. To understand the impact of insufficient daily intake of Omega 3 on your dog's mental state read this. To understand the impact on your dog's physical state read this.

If, in addition to grief, lack of good bacteria in the GI tract and insufficient intake of Omega-3, your dog is also carrying a toxic load his/her system, is under even more stress. Take a look at your dog's food and see if any of the toxins and carcinogens listed in this article are present in your dog's diet.When we are grieving we may not want to eat. See if you can encourage your dog by adding,good fresh whole foods to his/her diet. You can always make a batch of homemade food if you have the time.

Foods that are naturally blue - i.e. blueberries, blackberries, purple cabbage, purple kale actually contain a substance that helps to allevatiate depression.

When a dog is depressed - the best approach is a holistic approach, just as it would be for a human.  

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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld 

Please note - this article is for information purposes and is not a substitute for an in-person Session with me. When working with dogs I use many techniques - it is important to note that this article may touch on one or several techniques but not all. I select the technique that I use for a particular dog based on my observations of the dog and an intuitive, instinctive assessment of that dog's and its human's individual requirements. For example when I am working with a dog that is hyper sensitive and very physically reactive I will not use voice or touch. I use a lot of therapeutic touch on some dogs, others require the use of herding techniques and so on. Each and every technique must be combined with:
  • an understanding of the real intelligence, sensitivity and capability of dogs;
  • an understanding of how to read a dog's face and a dog's overall body language;
  • an understanding of the full spectrum of ways that humans communicate and dogs communicate; 
  • understanding and recognition of the individual that is each dog - no two dogs are the same...taking a 'cookie cutter' approach to techniques is not the way to work with a dog;
  • a complete recognition and understanding of all the elements that feed a behaviour and create an issue:
    •  the vast majority of people can only identify one or two elements...which vastly inhibits the ability to resolve behavior issues;
    • behaviours do not exist in isolation - there are always many elements that feed a single behaviour, there all always multiple behaviours that create a behavioral issue;
  • self-restraint and discipline on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
  • sensitivity, awareness, intuition, instinct and timing on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
    • to understand, connect with and adapt quickly and effectively to a dog's learning requirements you must be able to employ the same tools a dog uses - acute sensitivity, awareness, instinct, intuition and timing;
  • kindness, endurance, consideration, patience, persistence, perspective, the ability and know how to let the past go, the ability to set realistic expectations at any one point in time;
  • the creation of structure, rules, boundaries and limitations for each situation at the macro and micro level;
  • understanding of all the elements that make up an instruction and direction to a dog...there are multiple steps involved in an instruction - not just one!
  • absolute honesty - if you cannot be honest with yourself you will not be able to communicate clearly with a dog.
These are just some of the techniques that I teach my clients - it is a holistic, all-encompassing approach. If you are missing any one element of the above mentioned your success rate will be affected to one degree or another in implementing the techniques offered in the article presented above.