How to get one dog used to being alone once our other dog passes away?
December 1, 2014 12:42 PM   Subscribe

For Ollie's entire seven years of life, it's been "MaxAndOllie." Now, Max is nearing his end-of-life. How do we get Ollie used to being home alone with a minimal amount of stress (him) and tears (me)? Sadness & lumpy throats inside.

Max is 12-13ish and has been with me for 11 years - longer than my husband. We are nearing the end of his life and I am absolutely heartbroken. He's still eating, but sleeping a lot and overall pretty lethargic. He's diabetic and recently blind. I have been down this exact same road before with Max's predecessor and I feel like it's ending in the next few weeks. Our vet is looped in. But this isn't about Max. It's about Ollie.

Ollie has been with us for 7 years. We call them brothers and very best friends. Although he's been more independent over the last few months (they used to be thick as thieves - now it's only Ollie watching me in the kitchen as I cook and greeting me at the door) Max is still nearby.

Along with the lump in my throat, I'm beseiged with worry - Misterussell and I both work outside of the home and Ollie has never been home alone. We live in an apartment and I'm worried he'll cry or bark. Ollie isn't a normally a barker. He's a pretty chill dude. Even living in an apartment with bumps and bangs above and below he'll let out a "WOOF!" maybe once every four or five months. He's the dog that if you toss a towel over his head he will sit and wait patiently for you to remove it. He'll go on solo walks with one of us. He'll go to the groomer by himself. But he's never been alone. I naively never thought about life without Max.

Another pup is in the plans for summer. My husband will be off from school and can train him. But that can't happen until the end of June. Neither of us can work from home.

How do we start getting Ollie used to being by himself?

(Also, our 17 year old cat died at the end of August. I still look for him when I go home. If you can spare some good thoughts/prayers/mojo for me so I can get through losing 2 so close to each other, I'd appreciate it. Thank you.)
posted by kimberussell to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Keep the leaving routine exactly the same, seriously change nothing about it at all. As much as you'll want to hug & fuss him that will only make him think something is wrong.

It sounds like Max is quietening down, which means things probably won't be that much different for Ollie with him gone.

I'd start now getting him used to longer walks in the morning before you go if possible, the old a sleeping dog is a good dog idea here, and a sleeping dog is not a stressed dog. If you don't already do it maybe leaving a treat filled kong or puzzle ball to keep him busy for a bit might help too, that may be hard with a diabetic dog in the house & something you might want to keep for when it's needed.

Someone on Metafliter I think recommended these in answer to another question. I think they have helped one of our dogs that has separation anxiety, at least he seems to react to our returning a bit more calmly than he used to where he would all but have an anxiety attack of excitement when we came home. I've had good luck with pheromone collars too. Both of these will just reduce the stress your dog goes through. To be honest they probably work best at making me feel like i'm doing something & don't make the situation worse and I think they have helped my dog.
posted by wwax at 1:26 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had the displeasure of experiencing a similar situation recently.

Tobi Louise and Bella Moo Cow (sorry, I don't have pictures handy) were The Best of Friends™. They'd wrestle, and play, and go on walks together... all the good stuff. In late June, my mom mentioned that Tobi was slowing down a bit, and In July, Tobi passed away quietly at home in her sleep, tucked behind her favorite chair.

There was very little hubub as far as Bella was concerned--I think she knew that Tobi was declining, and expected the end. So, after Tobi passed, all my parents did was have Bella inspect Tobi's body, then carry on as normally as possible. Bella got used to not having Tobi around fairly quickly. She'd occasionally check for Tobi here and there, peek in Tobi's usual spots, etc. but once she figured out that Tobi was gone, it was business as usual for her.

Honestly, a lot of animal reactions depend on their humans. Keep the same routines after Max passes, and it will make the transition much easier on you both. My thoughts are with you.
posted by Verdandi at 3:17 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ooof, what a rough time for you, I am so sorry! Perhaps you could adopt an adult dog that does not need so much training, and that way do not have to wait until summer?

I think whatever the case, when Max passes ensure that Ollie is allowed to inspect the body so he knows his friend is gone. Pets understand death, and in general handle the passing of a friend better when they know the friend is gone, rather than the friend just disappearing to the vet one day and never coming back.
posted by Anonymous at 3:38 PM on December 1, 2014

Honestly, this is likely to be harder on you than the surviving pet.

My story is not definitive by any stretch, but it may be representative: through my teens, my parents had two dogs. A big, lovable, easy going Old English Sheepdog that they got when we were all still living at home, and a smaller, (and honestly) less-lovable Lhasa Apso that they got as we began to head off to college. The dogs seemed to get along well with each other, and the smaller/younger Lhasa Apso followed the older/larger OES around everywhere; they seemed like the best of pals. When the OES did ultimately pass away from old age, the Lhasa Apso took about 5 minutes to adjust to the new normal. Suddenly he was the top dog, and he didn't have to share anything with anyone. He was almost obscenely happy with this situation. Frankly, I would have welcomed a period of mourning and such from him, but the reality was that he simply moved ahead with his own life, "haters gonna hate," etc. He did not mourn his friend's passing at all.

Take care of yourself. I think your surviving dog will be fine.
posted by mosk at 4:27 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

My two dogs weren't exactly best friends, but my little rescue terrier was pretty enamored with my older Corgi (typical sibling relationship!), and he was quite upset when she died earlier this year. Like Ollie, our dog had never been alone. The first two weeks or so were rough. He actually peed in his crate a few times while we were gone (we did take him to the vet but there was nothing wrong with him other than anxiety). We got a radio so that it wasn't so quiet while he was alone. After a little while, he got used to being alone and was reassured that we'd come back every day. Now he is pretty much basking in the glory of being an only child. He is more confident (his sister was very alpha) and enjoys having our attention. I'm sure he'd love a sibling but he's doing very well by himself.
posted by radioamy at 6:02 PM on December 1, 2014

We had one of our dogs pass away some time back and the GSD who had always lived with him mourns him sometimes. He goes to the spot where the old guy took his last breath and just sits there sometimes when he, I think, really misses him. Other than that he seems fine (Its been a few months). I guess they adjust. :(. Also please adopt if you can a new dog.
posted by jellyjam at 6:20 PM on December 1, 2014

I don't have any helpful information for you, but I will face the same situation soon. I am so very sorry for the hard things you have gone through, and will go through soon. Sending lots of good vibes to you and your pups.
posted by stillmoving at 9:33 PM on December 1, 2014

Also I just wanted to say that I'm sorry you're going through this. Losing a pet is tough. I know it's cliche, but time does make things better. I was totally devastated when my Corgi died this spring. I still tear up sometimes when I think of her, but I am over the insane grief that I initially felt. I am able to talk about her, etc., without being overwhelmed by emotion. And I am a super emotional, cry at everything, obsessed with my pets type of person.
posted by radioamy at 11:57 AM on December 2, 2014

Response by poster: I'm embarrassed to post this followup. The day after I asked this, Max perked up. He's prancy and waggly again. Five minutes ago he stole the rope toy from Ollie and ran off with it. (He ran right into the bookcase, but that's another story.)

Maybe he just had a bad week. But thank you all for your kind answers and I will file this away for when that sad day does come.
posted by kimberussell at 3:45 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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