Question: “My elderly female dog passed away and now my younger dog is grieving so much he won’t eat and won’t play”

I’m so sorry you lost a beloved dog.  You must also be feeling the loss.  However, our dogs are like sponges – they soak up any small or large emotion that the human family carries with them, so it is key to remain as stable as possible when you interact with your dog.  If you are having a wobbly day and grieving yourself, give him space so he doesn’t worry about you on top of his own loss.  It might sound hard, but your dog needs to see you acting as if everything is ok for him to feel ok too. 

There’s another thing going on here though, and it is wrapped up in how dogs communicate with us using food.  Your younger dog has lost his matriarch and has been using food to question the rest of the family about who is in charge now.  Food is SUCH an integral part of how dogs communicate with us, and as odd as it may seem to begin with, by eating less, refusing food, turning his nose up, he is investigating who is in charge of the food and therefore in life.  I know that sounds a bit of a stretch, but many of your dog’s issues are related to this right now.  

To get this back in line, you need to simplify all feeding occasions, by:

a. eating a morsel of your own food directly before you 

b. put the bowl down for breakfast and then 

c. you walk away. 

Give him a few minutes to eat, and the moment he walks away from the bowl, finished or unfinished, you remove the bowl and don’t attempt to feed him again until dinner.  

You might find it interesting to read this blog on my dog Ludo questioning me about food after we lost our senior female last year:

And here’s a blog I wrote about the massive importance of food to dogs: 

This concept of feeling o overwhelmed with his potential new role explains his lack of playing too.  When dogs suspect they have a more responsible role in the family, they do tend to play less because they feel more anxious.  So using the basics of Dog Listening and making sure you simplify the communication around food for him will really help your dog understand he has no new responsibilities, and that he can relax and just be a dog.  I’m sure he will eat better soon and begin to feel he can play once more.

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