Moving On After Losing an Older Dog

Letting go of our furry companions from the past and embracing those in need now is the only way to move on after a pet's death.

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The occasion of getting a new puppy or dog should be just as joyous as bringing a much-wanted and long-anticipated baby into the world. In the best of possible worlds, the dog’s new family is welcoming, loving, and eager to learn as much as possible about and share as much as possible with the latest addition to the family. The transition almost always goes smoothly when the family is experienced with dogs, and already knows about providing healthful diets and gentle teaching for their canine companions.

Every so often, however, I meet very knowledgeable and caring dog people who experience undue conflict and tumult while they are getting used to their new dogs. When I know that the people involved know how to properly take care of a dog – that the problem is not simply a lack of knowledge about how to help the new dog succeed in the household – I suspect that the problem is not with the new dog. Often, I’ve found, the issue is actually one that was never resolved concerning the family’s last dog.

The Last Dog Was the “Best”

old corgi

Usually, we expect to outlive our dogs. Though we don’t generally think about it when we bring home a new puppy, we know that he’ll eventually grow into an adult, and then a senior dog. By the time his muzzle and legs turn white and he moves a little slower, our feelings for him will be without compare. After a lifetime together, he will become “the best dog” we’ve ever known.

By the time our old dogs pass away, most of us have forgotten that there ever was a time when our “best dogs” weren’t perfect companions. We forget the trying days of puppyhood, when a few of our favorite possessions get chewed up, and when accidents happen on our rugs. We forget about how much time it took us to habituate the young dog to riding peacefully in our cars and playing non-destructively in our gardens.

What we tend to remember is how wonderfully behaved our old friend was, how easy it was to spend time with him, how he always knew how to make us happy. So when we get a new dog or puppy, it’s difficult not to make comparisons. But these comparisons will interfere with binding a relationship and honoring the gifts this new soul brings into our lives. Remember, it will take some time for the newcomer to walk in the idealized old dog’s footprints.

Avoiding Comparisons Between Pets

To avoid comparisons, some people choose a dog who is totally unlike the previous pet so they will not be constantly reminded of their loss. Others prefer to have one who resembles their previous dog because the look makes them feel warm inside.

Whatever you choose to do, be open and honest with your new dog. Tell him each and every day how special he is and how honored you are to be his person. Let him know about the dog who died; tell him that your tears may flow sometimes with memories but that does not mean you will not be able to appreciate the gifts he has brought to share with you.

Unfinished Mourning

Another mistake people make is to obtain a dog before having completed the mourning process for their old dog. Sometimes people have difficulty with the mourning process. They cannot let go of the memories and are devastated by the loss. Bach Flower remedies can help the bereaved in these cases. Talking and being with people who understand can also help the process; professional grief counselors and pet grief support groups can work miracles.

However, no one should ever be rushed through this process. Some well-meaning friends may say “It’s time to move on, you’ve got to get on with your life, get over it – he was just a dog, why not just get another dog,” etc. A person in this position should pay no attention to these types of comments. Some of us love our dogs very deeply, and we bond with them in special, unique ways. For us, dogs are not replaceable. We need time and understanding to heal from the loss before we will be ready to love another dog.

It’s very important that no one be allowed to force a new dog on someone else. A spouse, friend or well-meaning relative may try to buy a puppy to “help you forget.” They should be politely told that we will never forget and we do not want to forget. We will remember our lost dog all of our lives and eventually, we will remember him or her with great joy. Then, when the time is right, we would like the luxury of being chosen by our next dog!

Case in Point

Once a woman came to my puppy teaching class with an eight-week-old terrier-mix puppy. She said she wanted help with what she characterized as “all the usual puppy problems,” but from the very first puppy class, I could tell she was dealing with more than “all the usual puppy problems.” She seemed very detached from her puppy. She never made eye contact with him and almost seemed afraid of him. The puppy, too, seemed to be having trouble with the relationship. He made a few attempts to engage her, and then gave up and decided it was more fun to play with the other puppies. I just figured they were getting used to each other and after a week of working with her puppy things would improve.

Boy, was I wrong! When she came back the following week, it was evident to the whole class that something was not right. As she entered the teaching center, the puppy strained to get away from her and wanted nothing to do with her. She actually seemed relieved that the puppy had the other dogs to play with. She was content to totally ignore him during the entire class. As I worked with the class, I surreptitiously watched her and her puppy, and thought about how I could best help the emotionally distant duo.

As the session ended, I asked the woman if she could stay after class for a few minutes. I told her that I thought she had chosen a wonderful puppy. He was cute, funny, playful, and had the potential to be a great companion dog. He was very smart, very social, and really wanted to be friends with everyone. I then asked her how she felt about the pup. Her response was unemotional and non-committal. She said she liked the dog well enough but he was simply not the same as her dog who had died.

Immediately the picture was clear to me. She was comparing the puppy to a deceased dog who had lived with her a very long time. Plus, she had not chosen to get the puppy. Her dog had been dead less than a month when her husband brought home the pup “to help her get over the loss.” She wanted to like the puppy, but felt guilty, as if she were betraying the memory of her former dog. Every time she looked at the new puppy she remembered the other dog and could not shake her feelings of sadness and guilt.

We sat and talked for a while. I asked her to tell me a little about her old dog and she cried and reminisced about him. I could tell that they had loved each other deeply.

After our talk, she said she felt a little better. I then told her not to worry about the homework assignment I had given the rest of the class because I had a different and special assignment for her.

Healing Ceremony

I told her to go home and light candles and incense in memory of her dog. Then I wanted her to curl up somewhere comfortable with her puppy and tell him all about her old dog. I wanted her to tell the puppy several of the memories that made her cry and several memories that made her laugh. She was to share as much of the joy and sorrow she had shared with her old dog with this brand new little dog. I told her she might feel foolish doing this but it was important.

It was immediately evident the next week when they returned to class that a miracle had happened. They came in and were bonded with each other. You could see it in their faces. The two of them actually looked physically different. Everyone in the class remarked about the change. They proceeded to become the best students in class, due to a powerful connection between them. Their love for each other was evident in every interaction they shared.

After class, the woman came up to me and hugged me and thanked me for the advice I had given her. She said she went home and did everything I had suggested. She said she didn’t feel silly, and that she had laughed and cried buckets of tears. Afterward, as she hugged and kissed her puppy, she realized for the first time how adorable his face was. Nothing has been the same since then!

You’ll Be Ready Only When You’re Ready

Some people get very stuck in the mourning process. They cannot get over the loss and vow they will never have another dog. They say the heartache of losing a dog is just too much to bear and they never want to go through that kind of pain again.

When I hear people talk that way, it hurts me to think of all the devotion, joy, and love their dog gave to them and all they can remember is the pain of the final moments. After all, in the grand scheme of things, death is just a brief moment. It shouldn’t erase the wonder of a lifetime of giving.

It seems to me, the greatest honor we can pay a deceased pet is to mourn the pet, heal during the process, and then be ready to love and learn from another dog. This says that having a dog is a worthwhile experience. The pain of losing this dog should not overshadow the joy of having a dog in our life.

When a dog leaves this life, allow yourself the time and luxury of a mourning period. There is no manual to tell you how to mourn or how long. You will mourn until you are finished with the process. When you find you are laughing or smiling at the memories of your deceased pet instead of crying at the mere thought of him, when you’re looking in pet shop windows and in the pet column in the classified ads, stopping to look at the free puppies in front of the supermarket, or just feeling that there is now room in your heart to love a new four-legged wonder, then you are healed. If you let your new dog share your truth, your love, and your heart, you’ll find that he’ll very quickly become your new “best dog.”

Linda Goodman operates PORGIE Teaching Center in Riverside, CA.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for this.

    Half a year ago my family lost my Yorkie-poo dog of 16 years. He was our baby and we had to put him down. My family has recently decided on getting a newborn puppy. I’ve been so excited all up until we had to start buying the new toys and the dog bed for our new little guy. My old dog was a very sweet, but jealous dog. I’m feeling so much guilt now about bringing the new one home because I just see my old dog getting upset that we’re bringing a new dog in. But when we bring him home I’m going to do the healing ceremony with my new puppy.

    • Thank you for sharing this article. Everything you said makes perfect sense. However, after watching my best friend and baby (Mango, Traditional Siamese Bluepoint cat) die after being by my side for 16 years, I know it will take a long time for me to get over her not being here with me. I’m not crying for the moment but it is only because I have literally run out of tears. But that won’t last long….

  2. I really enjoyed reading this article. I think you have some great advice and hopefully I can get some from you.
    I had two dogs Keira and Gus. I adopted Keira as a puppy in 2006 and Gus as a two-year-old in late 2006. They were very bonded with each other and myself. They got along famously with my cats and everyone they met. I always considered myself a cat person with a soft spot for dogs. After having Gus and Keira, I realized how much I truly loved having them in my life. I even jumped in front of a car once when Keira ran out in the street. I didn’t hesitate, my only concern was her. They were my world.
    In July of 2018, Keira passed away from complications due to an enlarged heart. In July of 2019, Gus passed away due to stomach cancer. I told myself I would just be a cat person for a while. I have been a cat lover since I was a young child and thought it was good enough for me. However I woke up the following morning after euthanizing Gus and the sound of a quiet house was to Eerie for me to handle. Something felt so wrong. Today I adopted another dog. Only 2 Days after euthanizing Gus.
    —–His name is Sawyer and he is 8 years old. He was almost like an instant dog. He came in and immediately took to the house and got along with the cats. He covers himself up with a blanket just like my old dog Keira used to do and he actually looks a lot like her. He’s very intelligent and lovable. The problem is as I sit here with him on a blanket next to me I can’t help but to feel horrendous guilt that I got a dog way, way too soon after Gus died. I feel like I’ve lost my mind and I’m disrespecting Gus horribly. Do you have any recommendations for me? I can’t seem to stop crying and I’m trying to do it quietly so Sawyer doesn’t hear me.

    • Hello, I know you posted your question a while ago but my dog passed away last Friday at 2:50pm. We had to put him to sleep because he was internally bleeding due to a bursted spleen. He most likely had cancer. I know the guilt that you feel. I’m feeling it too. But I am still working and continuing school because I know Lucky would hate for me to stay in the house and be depressed all day. He literally hated it. He would paw at my arm if I let out a sigh. I know that you feel horrible for getting another dog and you feel that it was too soon but I bet you that Gus is happy to see that you’re giving another dog in need a chance to be loved as he was loved by you. Please don’t feel guilty.

  3. Thank you for sharing this article. Everything you said makes perfect sense. However, after watching my best friend and baby (Mango, Traditional Siamese Bluepoint cat) die after being by my side for 16 years, I know it will take a long time for me to get over her not being here with me. I’m not crying for the moment but it is only because I have literally run out of tears. But that won’t last long….

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss. My little girl Sammi is on her deathbed and tomorrow i will have to put ger down. 15 years with the hest friend i ever had. I’m told, It is in your pain that God is closest to you, whether you realize it or not. The BibleSays in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”.

  5. Thank you so much for this article. I lost my pup Maisy about five weeks ago. Although I still miss her each and every day, I can finally laugh and smile thinking about all the good times I had with her. Tomorrow afternoon, I am adopting a new pup who I have fallen in love with. Upon making that decision, I was TERRIFIED of having that disconnect you described, and I am looking into how to deal with it just incase it happens. Honestly, I think regardless of my connection with my new pup, I will laugh and cry with him about his big sister! I am nervous and a bit overwhelmed with feelings, but I feel in my heart that the time is right and that the dog I chose is the right one. I know that all the love that my previous dog taught me is still in me, and I am so, so, so excited to give that love to a new dog who really, truly needs it.

    • Hi Mackenzie,
      I left this message with Tina (below) as well. But I wanted to find out how it is going with your new pup after losing Maisy? I lost my 17 1/2 year old Pomeranian in October, and I found an adorable pom (that matches everything I’m looking for – size, color and face) that I’m thinking of adopting this weekend. Could you pleases let me know how it’s going? I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing! I feel the same way as you do… that all the love that my Pompom taught me is still in me.
      Thank you and God Bless you!
      Lynne

      • Hi Lynn,
        Did you adopt your new pompom? I lost my 15 1/2 year old Pomeranian a week ago so it’s all too raw to think of a new Pom yet but I miss her so much 😭 They really are such special little dogs!
        Lucy x

  6. Thank you I lost my beloved heart dog 5months ago and in only 24 hrs I miss her every day.she helped me through a lot of bad times I am starting to think about another pup but every time I do I feel guilty like I am replacing her torn about what to do ?

  7. I lost my 14 year old dog a month ago. He was family since he was 4 1/2 months. I miss him terribly but have started to be able to smile and remember all the happy times he gave us and he will always have a piece of my heart that belongs to only him. We adopted a six month old puppy yesterday and will pick him up in a couple days. Of course it brings back some conflicting emotions but the silence is deafening and the e have love to give another dog. I will always miss Buddy but I know we will make new memories with this new addition.

    • Hi Tina,
      How is it going with your new dog? I lost my beloved Pompom in October, and I plan to adopt a new “baby” this weekend who I found and fell in love with. My husband is concerned that it is too soon, but I have always had a pet to love (bunny, cat and Pom for 17 years), and I feel like a huge piece of joy and laughter in my life is gone. Please tell me if I am doing the right thing!!!
      Blessings,
      Lynne

  8. My best friend (a golden retriever) passed about a week ago. She was the best. We did everything together. She was our family dog meaning going to my house for a week and to my dads for a week. My dad is lost without her. I wanted to get him a new dog to help with the pain. I also don’t want my golden who passed to feel as if I am replacing her or like her passing isn’t the worst pain ever. Would getting a new dog help us? My heart hurts and I am torn so many ways.

  9. Thank you, such a wonderfully well written article, I loved that you shared an example and a solution. My little pomchi, Clementine, adopted me about 9 years ago when my sis came back from North Carolina, she had this precious little dog about 3 years, having received her from a family with little kids that tend terrorize small pets. She was with someone else before, I’m her 4th human. We lost her on thanksgiving day,2019, a week ago.
    She also had an enlarged heart, diagnosed late spring with a rare thick blood disorder,PV. Possibly bone marrow cancer. We had no symptoms til she started having these fainting /seizure type spells. I’m feeling guilt over not seeing this, just to get a diagnosis is an extremely costly process. With no guarantee on quality of life.
    I don’t believe she would have done well with chemo or more medicine piled on. She was almost 15 and we were blessed , she was a happy and healthy dog all of those years. Each day gets better, I’m ok with the grieving process, when it comes you just have to go with it. I don’t believe in going out and trying to replace her yet. She was an important part of the family , the next dog that adopts us deserves to be respected and welcomed to our world and losing our Clementine takes healing time.

  10. Thank you…… Just put to sleep my best friend, buddy , everything that meant to me 2 days ago. I love reading what you say….. I was with my dog 24-7 . I know i should wait but, i would go tomorrow and get another dog.
    Your article is wonderful and makes me better. thank you

    • Thank you for this. I have been reading a number of articles due to my recent, unexpected loss. This is one of the best. It really helps me consider some things to think about. I do not think I am ready yet, but it gives me hope for the future.
      Thank you again.

  11. Thanks for this article. I lost my dog Danielle about two months ago due to an enlarged heart. She was about 7 years old, so fairly young. It all happened in the span of 12 hours and I was in Los Angeles online trying to get on a plane to come home when my mom called me and told me she had passed away. I was devastated and fell into a depression for a while. I’ve been checking rescue sites for another possible companion for our family but haven’t found anything. Yesterday, mom and I went to the pet store and my mom picked up a puppy. I took one look at him and started crying. Danielle had just had puppies when we had adopted her, and we never got to see them because they had been adopted before we got her. But I took one look at this puppy and saw Danielle’s face and I knew that she was looking down at us. I fell in love instantly! We go tomorrow to pick up our new friend. Tonight I was looking through my phone looking at pictures of her, and I felt sad. But reading this article has helped and I know that although I’m sad about Danielle passing, I am super excited to get to know a new friend and share with him the same love I did with Danielle.

  12. Vicky I just lost my lulu about a month ago we had her from 10 years she had a heart block surgery was to help her but she got worse my house feels so empty and I feel guilty getting another dog I am still grieving from lulu and feel it may take time it still hurts in my gut to come hone to no lulu I still have her ashes I have to dispense of I’m going this weekend to do just that lulu was my heart we had rescued her from a shelter she was 5 months so I ju ST to hurt so bad right now my son wants a new dog but I’m just not ready yet but the silence in the home is killing me also don’t know what to do Lulu my love I can’t just can’t let go

  13. I had my pomeranian put down almost 2.5 years ago. I cry about her only about once a week now. My husband wants another dog, I don’t. My pom brought me joy every day of her life, literally. I can’t say that about anyone else in my life, while my family brings my joy, they also bring stress, conflict and drama. Sometimes I think about getting another dog, but I think I would be disappointed because it wouldn’t be like the old one.

  14. We had to say good bye to our old dog just last month. We had acquired a puppy about four months earlier and she really helped us deal with out grief. She missed him as well but together we are moving on. Losing a dog after fourteen and a half years was wrenching but puppies need our love and attention and we honor our old pets by loving them but realizing they are not the same dog. We lost our previous dog over ten years prior and I still miss her. Dogs break our hearts but can we imagine life without them?

  15. I had to send my little Busy, a Jack Russell terrier, on ahead two years ago. She was sixteen and we had so much fun doing things together. I missed her so badly that I started looking for another tiny terrier to bring into my life. It took over a year to find just the right one and she came from Canada home to Kentucky with me. Lacey is very much bonded with me and a good puppy. She is smart, athletic and very funny. I believe Busy would approve of her being here. I still miss Busy, but the hollow place in my heart is filling up.

  16. Yes I will no long own dogs. In the past 7 years I’ve lost 4 dogs. If they were seniors I would be more understanding and it actually makes me angry people morn dogs who’ve lived long lives. However I’ve lost young dogs who should be enjoying the prime of their lives. Instead I get one died at shortly after turning 6 from bloat, lost a 2 year old from bloat again, lost another young dog at 1.5 years from cancer, and now last month lost my last girl at 3 years to kidney disease.

    Meanwhile a coworker had their dog for 16 long years and only put the dog down due to issues getting up. Such luxury honestly.

    After these heart breaking experiences I will no longer own dogs. Looking at birds now.

  17. Thank you for the article, it was very comforting. I lost my beloved 14 year old rat terrier Oreo in Early January, 2020. He had kidney disease. The vet thought we caught in time for the meds to stop the progression but after numerous checkups and tests, his kidney numbers were getting worse. We had to give him fluid therapy every day, then every other day. When it stopped helping and the pain of seeing him suffer, we decided to do one of the hardest things I have ever done and put him down. He went to the rainbow bridge at 12:15 pm on January 9th. I will never forget. I cannot stop thinking about my baby boy. He was like my child, my only son.
    In 2005, my twin daughter’s asked Santa for a black and white rat terrier male puppy for Christmas, so I found a breeder that had exactly what they wanted. I also learned that he was born on my twin daughter’s birthday. I raced down to her ranch and picked him out and gave them their wish. We had him since he was 8 weeks old.
    Oreo was my first 100% indoor dog and he definitely had the run of the household. His bed was under my husbands’ and my bed. He was the only dog I ever let sleep in my bed. We took him everywhere possible that he was allowed. He was my husbands best male friend and they were inseparable. Of course, Oreo loved my husband more because they were running/walking buddies and he would bring him real steaks and chicken from his restaurant. But he always seem to remember, that I was his human mommy. I was the one that picked him out.
    I am a guitar player and I like to shut myself in my music room and sing and play. Oreo was my biggest fan. He would either follow me in there or scratch on the door to let him in. When I look at the spot under the bookshelf that he would lay and listen, I have to cry because my fan is not there. But maybe he is, but I can’t see him.
    I am now on a waiting list for a new male rat terrier puppy. I don’t want a puppy that looks like Oreo, because I feel that I don’t want a pup that reminds me of him in that way. I feel that if I get one that looks like him, it’s replacing him. I want a totally different color puppy. Hopefully, a chocolate and white or red and white puppy.
    What helps me is knowing that we gave Oreo a wonderful life. I have absolutely no regrets . We have great memories of him that I can’t wait to tell my new puppy!
    Thank you!

  18. Thank you for this article. I lost my sweet Fiona 3 weeks ago today. We rescued her just before her 8th birthday, and gave us an amazing 3.5 years. I’ve been having a very hard time with it. I’ll think I’m over it, then start thinking about how she’s not there when I’m doing something (she was by my side constantly, my little shadow) and the tears well up. I’ve never said never about getting another dog – I agree that they bring us such joy and wonder – but I do think I need to wait for the sadness to pass before embarking on the journey with another 4 legged friend.

  19. My boy sox we had for 14 years and 7 months since he was 6 weeks old, sadly yesterday we had to say goodbye we were told the day before he had severe kidney disease and other health issues, he had not eaten for days. You see I never wanted a did he was a present for my daughters 11th birthday, she left home and he was my boy my heart breaks the house is so quiet, but know I have to give myself to grieve for him, I never thought it would hurt like it does he was my friend and I miss him so Fly high over that 🌈 my boy and thank you for the love you gave unconditionally to me hope I was good enough for you because you certainly was the bestest boy ever 😢💔

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