How do you know if your dog is grieving?

Dogs DO understand grief: As Sarah Ferguson reveals the Queen’s corgis are ‘finally back to normal’ following late monarch’s death, a canine expert reveals how to spot if your pooch is suffering

  •  Adem Fehmi of Barking Heads high quality pet food is a dog behaviour expert
  •  Must read: Do you know the tell-tail signs that your pup has hurt itself 

Sarah Ferguson recently revealed that the corgis she adopted after the death of Queen Elizabeth are ‘really happy’ and appear to be recovering from their grief.

The Duchess of York, 63, made the comments during an interview with Rylan Clark on his BBC Radio 2 show.

She told how the two dogs, Muick and Sandy, have been getting on since moving into the Royal Lodge in Windsor, where she lives. 

She said: ‘They’re great, they’re really happy, and their tails have gone up now, so I think they are over their grief.’

But what actually happens to a dog when it grieves and what can a new owner do to help?

Sara Ferguson recently revealed the Queen’s beloved corgis Muick and Sandy, are finally back to their old selves following the death of their former owner

Adem Fehmi, a Hertfordshire-based dog behaviour expert at Barking Heads high quality pet food, says: ‘All dogs are different and will react to the loss of an owner differently. 

‘But some dogs are hyper-attached to their owners so may get really stressed and sad if they lose that person.

‘However, they are things that can be done to help the process.’ 

Here he tells FEMAIL his top insights into the world of dog grief…

How to spot if a dog is grieving

Her late Majesty owned corgis for most of her life and was known to have a particular fondness for the breed

‘Obviously we cannot go into a dog’s mind and measure a pet’s grief. Equally, we can’t give them a scan to see what is happening in their brain,’ Adem said. 

‘But dogs are extremely social creatures and often form strong connections with their owners. 

‘With the Queen’s corgis, Her late Majesty no doubt would have had a very deep bond with them. They likely miss her presence and affection, even if they do not fully understand what has happened.

‘Typically, to understand if a dog is grieving, we have to look at their behaviour. A dog might show symptoms of lethargy, anxiety, stress and withdrawal. They may go off their food and not wanted to be petted. 

‘Equally they may hang their head low, not wag their tails and just seem sad. They might also pace or hyper-ventilate. 

‘These can be stressful for a new owner to witness but they can usually be sorted out with some TLC.’

He added that, as with humans, the pain of grief diminishes over time for animals. 

The importance of routine

Muick and Sandy were pictured looking forlorn as they waited for her funeral procession to arrive at St George’s Chapel on the Windsor Estate

Adem said: ‘It is worth pointing out that a dog losing its owner can often also mean a change of environment and routine.

‘It is therefore difficult for us humans to understand whether it is this or the loss of a person that might cause behavioural problems in a pet.

‘The loss of a routine might be a particular problem if the pet owner was elderly. 

‘Often families with young children and a dog may not have a clear routine or structure. The dog is simply slotted in with events changing daily. But often with older people – perhaps the ones most likely to die – the routine can be very set.

‘Typically, for instance, a dog might have a walk at a certain time, be fed on the dot and be accustomed to a treat at bedtime. If a dog ends up with a new person, it may become anxious and agitated that these routines have changed. 

‘Not only might they be in a new house, they might have different food and walking patterns. 

‘If they have not been used to children, they might suddenly find themselves among them – so all of these factors can be unsettling. 

‘To help mitigate this in an event of a loss, every dog owner should ideally have someone who knows about their dog, their routines, likes and dislikes in case they suddenly die and the dog needs to be taken care of by someone else.’

He added that the late Queen’s corgis likely already knew Sarah Ferguson so may have already been used to her. They were also likely walked and fed by other people while the Queen was alive, which would have helped the transition. 

However he continued: ‘They will still be in a new house with different people – so any adjustment may take time.’

Go slowly 

‘If a dog is stressed or unhappy, it can take time to remedy this. This can be frustrating as a stressed dog can make everyday tasks difficult,’ Adem said. 

‘They may not walk properly or be okay going through a park. They may also not like being left alone or going to the vets. 

‘Go at your dog’s pace. Be patient and consistent and build up positive associations with kind words and rewards.  If a dog seems to be getting better and then it takes a step backwards, don’t be worried to reset.’

Every dog is different  

Adem advised new owners to do everything they can to understand their dog.

He said: ‘For instance, they need to look at where it is in its life stage. An older dog may be struggling with ill health or may be losing its senses. It may also have had a deep relationship with its last owner. Consequently, it may struggle with change more.

‘Equally a young dog may also need time to bond with its owners.  

‘Owners should also pay attention to the breed. My dog is a Labrador, but if I died, the new owner would need to understand that it came from working stock, so needs a lot of exercise.

‘If a dog is used to chasing a ball but a new owner brings it a frisbee or a teddy bear to chase, it may not enjoy this and may become confused and despondent. 

‘Some dogs will not grieve a person per se, they simply miss a ball-chucker or a feeder. So in essence, if you can replicate these things, the dog should adapt well to new ownership.’

Do the basics right 

‘Dogs, like humans, are sociable mammals and have basic needs which need to be met,’ Adem explained. 

‘They need good exercise, they also need play and enrichment, and they need to feel safe in their own home or environment. 

‘Some dogs also need to be mentally stimulated and challenged. Others love training and agility exercises. But they also need love and affection and attention. 

‘Doing all of these basics will help a dog cope with grief and a new base. 

‘Most dogs do want to move forward and enjoy life – and if you get the basics right, this will help the process enormously.’

Remember, it’s not just grief 

Adem explained: ‘It’s important to remember that other changes also affect dogs and cause them stress and worry It doesn’t have to be grief. An owner might become ill and be unable to care for them or walk them. 

‘My neighbour has a lurcher, and when she recently became injured, the dog became very stressed. It was unsure and agitated, but reintroducing its routines calmed it down and helped to settle it.’  

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