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Relationships with pets run deep. Not only do we and our pets bond closely with one another, but pets often bond intimately with other pets in the same household. We’ve all seen dogs who are so attached they look like they should be wearing "BFF" necklaces. Not all pets are quite as close-knit, but a pet will take notice of the sudden absence of another household member, and this is often reflected in behavior changes.
Unfortunately, common life circumstances such as divorce, rehoming or a pet's passing can mean that at some time or another your dog may deal with loss, especially in a multipet home. Not only do we as humans go through the period of loss, but our pets are also deeply affected by the loss of a furry family member. The impact of another pet leaving can result in behavior changes in the remaining pet or pets, such as constant checking of the environment in search of their lost companion, an attitude of listlessness and lack of enjoyment in activities they were previously fond of, and, in some cases, even manifestations of separation anxiety.
My Pugs and I have faced many types of separation within the past two years. The first occurred when, because of divorce, my Pugs were temporarily separated, and the second was the passing of our senior Pomeranian, Teddy, who was an integral part of our family. From my own preparation for the recent separations my pets underwent and from my knowledge as an animal trainer, I do my best to render words of training wisdom to other families who may be facing a pet separation within their own homes.
Too often, puppies who are taken from the same litter or raised together from a young age are never trained to cope with separation from one another. This leaves the dogs extremely vulnerable to the loss of a littermate or close friend. Although regular periods of separation from both people and pets should be taught since puppyhood for the best results, separation training can also be done later in life. It’s important to regularly take each dog out on separate walks and outings. Enrolling your pets in separate training classes can be a first step in helping them build confidence in being alone. While one dog may be taken on a walk or a fun outing to a local pet store to pick up a tasty chew toy, leave your other pet at home with a tasty stuffed Kong or food puzzle filled with healthy treats. If either pet shows extreme distress during separation, such as not eating their treats, constant whining or howling, or displaying other signs of stress, separation may need to start at an easier level. Try separating the dogs by simply placing them in separate crates next to each other, or separating them with a baby gate for short periods of time until you can build up both the distance and time they are separated from each other. Since the stress level for highly bonded dogs can be tremendous, you may need to involve your veterinarian or a certified professional dog trainer in the process. The most important goal of separation training is to build your dog’s confidence with being alone while at the same time teaching them that time periods when they are separated from their friend can actually be filled with treats, special outings and — yes — fun.
Although you can prepare your dog to tolerate separation from another pet, it’s impossible to alleviate your dog’s sense of loss altogether. When I trained my Pugs, Willy and Bruce, to tolerate separation from each other, the separation stress both of them underwent was still difficult. In some cases you can still allow your pet to get regular doses of interaction with his friend. After Bruce moved out of my household, I was able to take him on mini vacations to my home, so he and Willy could have regular periods of visitation with each other, and it dramatically lifted both of their spirits.
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