Dog Behavior Training After Loss of Master

This is one of the hundreds of email requests for help, concerning real life problems that the authors of SitStayFetch get every week. In this email they try to provide a solution to a very realistic problem: the loss or departure of a family member. I am sure you will find it very informative.

Hi Daniel,

My Labrador cross, Basil, has had major behavioral changes since my husband and I separated 6 months ago. He used to be the sweetest, most adorable dog ever, but now I am pulling my hair out trying to keep him under control.

He is though still very affectionate towards me and I am sure that he is very much affected by my husbands departure. He looks quite sad and apathetic pretty much all the time. I have been trying to cheer him up by taking him on long walks and exercising him a lot. It just makes it very hard to punish him when I know that he is missing his former master.

Basil has started snarling and growling at visitors, especially if they are male. He will try and get in between the visitor and me and start growling, usually when the visitor tries to approach me.

Sad Labrador retriever dog

His appetite has diminished considerably, he used to eat full amounts all the time and now he doesn’t seem to have the heart to eat as much as he should.

Not only that, Basil has gone from being a fully housetrained dog to one that cocks his leg quite often inside the house. For some reason it seems to be rooms that haven’t been used much.

Anything you can recommend will be much appreciated.



SitStayFetch Reply:

I can imagine that it is quite a difficult situation for Basil and yourself. You are quite right to think that Basil’s behavior changes are associated with the loss of his master. This is actually reasonably common behavior when a family member leaves or passes away.Hi Juliette

Besides the growling at visitors and urinating inside the house, other common symptoms of grief can include your dog:

- becoming depressed,
- not sleeping much (or sleeping a lot),
- chewing their paws,
- whining,
- becoming morose.

It is very important that you stick as much as possible to your normal routines, both with respect to your dog and your daily life. You will have to be quite patient as it may take some time for Basil to become his old self again.

The protective behavior that Basil is portraying, especially when men approach you, is likely to stem from his fear and anxiety at not having his protective master around. Also as he is now more dependant on you for food, shelter, etc you have become much more valuable to him. Therefore he feels a greater need to keep you safe, which in turn leads to his being aggressive towards approaching visitors as he mistakenly thinks his innate guard dog instincts are required.

As your husbands scent reduces Basil’s feelings of insecurity are likely to increase. Therefore he needs his own form of reassurance, which he gets by urinating and leaving his own scent around the house. This behavior can be overcome to a certain extent by using a dog appeasing pheromone diffuser. These types of scent diffusers are available from either your vet or well stocked pet store. They work by releasing a canine scent that indicates to him that rooms are safe and secure.

To overcome Basil’s lack of appetite, try offering him his most favorite food and treats to tempt him into eating more.

Punishment is not a good option as it is likely to just increase his insecurity, when in actual fact you should be trying to regain his confidence and decrease his anxiety. It is also important that you try to get Basil to form good relationships with other people from inside and outside of the household.

If Basil is still displaying the symptoms of grief in a months time then I would suggest that you take him to a dog behavior counselor to have him fully assessed.

Kind regards,

Daniel Stevens

If you’re really serious about obedience training your dog then go to the dog obedience training page right away! You’ll discover all of my most explosive dog training secrets, strategies and tips that took me over 14 years to test, fine-tune and perfect.

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