Lost Dog Advice: How To Help Kids Cope When Your Dog Goes Missing

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When your child’s hamster dies or you find his fish floating upside down in the tank, you may develop an elaborate story to explain what happened. Losing a pet can be confusing for a child, especially if it is a family pet like a dog. Depending on your child’s age, he may not understand why your dog would leave home – let’s talk about a few valuable tips for helping your child cope with a lost dog.

Related: Why A Lost Dog’s Behavior Impacts Why And Where He Roams

What NOT To Do

When you notice that your dog is missing, your first instinct might be to panic. For the sake of your children, however, you should bite back this reaction. If you panic, your children might become afraid as well and you may have to spend valuable time consoling them when they could be helping you look for the dog.

As well, you should avoid making promises that your dog will come back. You may not know the circumstance behind the disappearance and there is no guarantee that you will get your dog back. Dog theft is a growing problem and if someone steals your dog to make a profit, he will probably be gone before you even know he is missing. Avoid the temptation to tell your child that the dog simply went for a walk – it is always better to tell the truth. Do not use the term “ran away,” however, because this terminology can be frightening and confusing for young children. You also need to be careful about assigning blame. If your child left the gate open you can explain to him what happened to keep it from happening again, but do not blame him for the dog’s disappearance.

Related: What To Do If Your Dog Gets Lost

What You SHOULD Do

In addition to addressing any factors that may have contributed to your dog’s escape (like leaving the gate open), you should make every effort to find the dog. Show your children that you care about the dog as you would any other family member and that you will do whatever it takes to find him. Let your children see you making calls to animal shelters and putting up flyers – you can also involve them in performing a search of the neighborhood. Allowing your children to help make “lost dog” flyers can help them to feel more in control and less frightened of the situation. If your dog remains missing for more than a day, you may want to let your child’s teacher or daycare provider know what is going on in case your child needs a little extra reassurance when you are not there to give it.

What Happens if You Don’t Find the Dog?

If you never end up finding your dog, your child may be traumatized by the experience, perhaps even blaming themselves for the loss. Your child may develop a wide range of emotions including sadness and guilt, even anger at friends who still have their pets. Time is the only thing that will really heal your child’s wounds, but there are a few activities you can use to help your child process his emotions regarding the loss of your dog:

  • Have your child draw a picture of your dog or write him a letter
  • Consider holding a memorial service for your dog so your child can say goodbye
  • Let your child keep something that was meaningful to the pet, like a favorite toy
  • Give your child chances to talk about their feelings and make sure they feel validated

Losing a dog is never easy, but it can be especially traumatizing for children. By working through this, as a family, both parents and children will be better equipped to handle the situation and its after effects.