Helping Children Deal with the Loss of a Pet

Perhaps next to the sex “talk”, one of the most difficult discussions to have with a child is that of the death of a pet. A child’s first experience with death is often with the loss of a pet. The goldfish dies, the hamster stops spinning in his wheel. Whether the pet was euthanized, or died suddenly, the child’s emotions must be taken into consideration.

A parent, even in the midst of their own grief, must set the tone for their child.  Depending on the age of the child and their emotional makeup, their reaction may run the gamut from an explosive outburst of anger and denial to a shoulder shrug and a desire to be alone. All reactions are ok. There is no one way to grieve. A child may need to be held and consoled, or may need time and space alone to process the loss.

Expect surprising questions. When our dog was hit by a car and killed, my husband and I buried him in the yard before our son came home from school.  We wanted to spare him the trauma of seeing his beloved dog’s shattered body. When we told him the news, he wanted us to dig him up so that he could see him one more time. Instead, we collected pictures of Marbles and made an album of fun times.

We framed my son’s favorite picture of Marbles and put it on his nightstand, so that he was nearby at night.

Other rituals may also help bring closure not only for the child, but for the entire family. If you choose to have your dog cremated and buried in the yard, have the child make some kind of marker.  It could be as simple as a laminated drawing for a young child, or a cross or other marker constructed by an older child.  Perhaps the child could gather flowers to put on the grave or put the dog’s favorite toy on the site. A ceremony helps to anchor the fact that the dog is truly gone.

Even after a ceremony, a younger child may still ask, “where is Fido?”

After all, in cartoons, the characters die but are alive and active the next day on the screen. Separating real life from television is difficult, and the child will need to gently be told that Fido is gone forever. The initial grief may reappear several times before the understanding of forever is clear. In the days and weeks after Marbles death, our son would bound in from the school bus looking for her.  I could see the sadness come over his face when he realized there was no dog barking at his feet ready to play fetch.

Children, like adults, don’t grieve in a linear fashion.  There will be days that we all seem to be fine, and life goes on, but some trigger brings us back to our grief and we are blue. Look for those signs in your child. Take notice if they are acting out, or afraid to go to sleep, or spending time alone. That is the time to talk with them about the good times with your pet. Share your favorite stories and encourage your child to do the same.  I suggest writing a love letter to your pet. What better way to remember how precious and special your pet was to your child and the family?

Questions may come immediately, or over time. A child may ask, “Where did our dog go?”  Your answer may be consistent with your religious beliefs.  When our son asked that question we answered, “Marbles is in heaven. Wouldn’t you want dogs in heaven if you were God?”  For our son that was a very comforting answer since he had come to know heaven as a beautiful place filled with light and goodness.

When is a good time to get another dog?  That is different for every family.  But you will know.  You will feel your heart beginning to mend, you will need your afternoon walk with a leash in your hand, and your throwing arm is itching to pitch. That is when you realize that Charles Schultz was right when he said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

Lu Pierro is the author of All Dogs Go to Heaven, a Guided Grief Journal

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Good Dog! Product Test Report: The Buster Cube

We’ve had several calls and letters about this unusual toy over the past few months. So many, in fact, that I went out and bought one for my dogs.

The Buster® Cube was developed in Denmark by a man who works with dogs and treats canine behavior problems. The Cube looks like a die with six sides, one of which has a hole. The attraction for the dog is that as she roles the cube around with her nose or paws, kibble comes out of that hole. Oh joy!

To get the pieces of kibble inside the walls of the cube, just insert them in the hole. The cube is divided into several compartments so, if you shake it around, pieces of kibble will find a “home” in each of the sections. I used Charlee Bear® Dog Treats in my Buster Cube because they’re just the right size (small) and they’re low in calories.

You may already know that Fisher, my Alaskan Malamute, isn’t very playful. When we put the Buster Cube down on the floor for the dogs to play with, Fisher surprised us by claiming it. She immediately decided that this was her toy, and she wouldn’t let Mandy or Harley touch it. She’d keep her paw or head on the cube at all times to keep everyone away. Unfortunately, we eventually had to take it away from her because she was getting overprotective.

I brought the Buster Cube to the Good Dog! offices for Chief Test Dog Chops. I gave it to her at 9:00 a.m. and when I left for lunch around noon, she was still playing with it. The only time she left it alone was when we forced her to go outside. She’s used to working for her treats, so this was great. It kept her entertained.About hour five we got tired of hearing the treats in the Cube rattling around the office, and took the Buster Cube away from Chops. She tried to take it off my desk, and out of the box!

It took the dogs a while to figure out that they couldn’t get the food out with their tongues or by biting the cube open. My Buster Cube has a lot of teeth marks to prove it! The information that comes with the toy says that these are common reactions. Once they figured out how easy it was to get the food out by rolling the cube, both Fisher and Chops stopped biting at it.

One size cube fits all. In fact, small dogs have proven that solving the puzzle has more to do with how clever the pup is, rather than how big or strong she is. It’s a terrific toy that stimulates dogs mentally, helps use concentration skills, and gets rid of that excess energy. I’m all for that!

The Buster Cube is also meant to be an educational toy that helps alleviate some behavior problems. The printed insert claims that the Buster Cube can help solve or minimize behavior problems originating from fear, aggression or boredom.

It’s easy to see how it helps with boredom. But we’ve had some aggression problems with Fisher, and unfortunately this toy reinforced that behavior. She’s protective of her food with our other female dog, and this was no different. I guess that’s a normal reaction in homes with more than one dog, so maybe the problem could be solved by having a cube for each dog, rather than expecting them to share. (Or is that asking too much?!)

You can easily adjust the rate of speed that the food comes out of the cube by just turning the cylinder inside the hole. This changes the level of challenge to the dog.

You’ll be happy to know that the Buster Cube is dishwasher-safe. That helps if you use a greasy super-premium food.

If you’re looking for a gift for the dog that has everything, I highly recommend the Buster Cube. If Fisher likes it, and if it can keep Chops entertained hour after hour, you can bet that it’ll work for most dogs.

Wendy Houtz

Good Dog! Product Test Report: Wufer Ball

I was at PETCO the other day, talking with pet owners about toys. One couple told me they have relatives with two large Samoyeds. These dogs love to play with a bowling ball!

While that may be a little hard on the teeth, there’s a new alternative. It’s called the Wufer Ball. We received the Wufer Ball the day before I was supposed to leave for vacation, so Harley, the playful and curious one of my bunch, had already left for Grandma and Grandpa’s for the week. That left Fisher and Mandy to do the testing.

The Wufer Ball is a hollow, hard plastic ball about the size of a basketball (10” in diameter). It has a plastic screw plug that allows the ball to be filled with sand or gravel (the ball comes with gravel already inside), which causes the ball to go in “weird” directions. This is said to make your pet “confounded and challenged.” Unfortunately, Mandy and Fisher weren’t interested.

As you probably figured out if you’ve read the other toy reviews that I’ve done, Fisher isn’t much fun, anyway. Mandy likes to play, but she prefers toys that she can carry around. If your dog is big, curious and responds to noise and movement, the Wufer Ball is perfect.

The ball is made from recyclable HDPE (high density polyethylene) plastic and can be easily cleaned. It’s very durable, and virtually puncture-proof.

The Wufer Ball is the direct descendant of the Boomer Ball, which we first tested back in the September/October 1991 issue of Good Dog! The Boomer Ball (from a different company) came in four sizes, while the Wufer Ball is sold only in the 10” size.

Our test dogs who lived in a house on a hill enjoyed rolling the ball up the hill, then chasing it down the hill, barking all the way.

When Chops saw the Wufer Ball, she got all excited. She remembered the Boomer Ball, which she was allowed to play with just once a year. The reason she was allowed the ball only annually was that she gets too excited. She follows the ball, barking in a high-pitched shriek. In the house or out, it’s an irritating noise. Throw the ball for her, and she’ll run after it, barking. I think she wants to retrieve it, but the ball is so big she gets frustrated. So she barks at it. That game lasted as long as we could tolerate it, then the ball was put away.

One other word of caution: this ball is for outdoor use only. It’s heavy, with or without the gravel. In the house, it works like that bowling ball those Samoyeds liked.

Wendy Houtz

Good Dog! Product Test Report: Fido’s Fun Ball

Once in a while a new product comes out that is so terrific, yet so simple, that we think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Well Fido’s Fun Ball™ falls into that category!

When they arrived at the Good Dog! office, it was like a doggy holiday. Chops carried hers around in her mouth for at least a week. If she went outside to take care of business, so did her ball; if she took a nap, so did her ball. She’d stand by our desks squeezing it (it doesn’t squeak, it just makes air noise), bugging us so much to play with her, that we finally hid it for a while just to get some relief. That didn’t last too long though; she was so sad that we gave it back. Ross, our publisher, even went so far as to say that she seems to like it more than her Frisbee®. Let me tell you, that’s saying a lot!

Katie likes the ball too. Sometimes she’ll get it and lay her head on it (she’s such a slugdog that she never really plays with anything!), but Chops always lets us know by barking non-stop until Katie gives it up. Never mind that there were several of these balls available for her to play with. If she sees Kate with something – especially the Fun Ball – she has to have that exact toy!

Fido’s Fun Ball was also a big hit at my house. Harley loves it so much that he hides it from Mandy and Fisher when he’s not playing with it. And we all agreed that not having a squeaker makes it even more wonderful!

The idea comes from the company that makes the Eclipse Ball™, which is a team racquet and ball sport. The owners found that their dogs loved to play with the rejects, and the idea was born. The ball is completely non-toxic, including the ink used for the logo. (In fact, the dogs’ slobbery-stuff washes the logo right off.) The balls are really soft and squishy, and I think that’s one reason why all the dogs love them so much.

You can choose pink for girl dogs and – what else – blue for boy dogs! There are two sizes: one is the same size as a racquet ball, and the other is about the size of a softball. We found that the large ball was too big for Katie’s mouth, but it was just fine for Chops.

The only thing we didn’t like about the ball was that it gets really slimy and picks up a lot of dog hair (and other stuff that may be on your floor). But that’s a very minor complaint compared to the amount of joy it brings the dogs.

There’s also a ball for puppies called Fido’s First Ball™. The only difference is that it’s a little softer. All the balls are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and they’re so durable that no damage has been done to them, even with all the abuse they’ve gone through. I could go on all day about how wonderful this product is, but I think you get the idea. This is one ball that no doggy house should be without.

The company is in the process of talking to retail outlets, so if you want to get them now, order directly from the company. I suggest you do yourself and your dog a favor and give them a call at 1-800-998-2260, or write Eclipse Ball, PO Box 333, Grant, MI 49327.

Wendy Houtz

Product Test Report: The Dog Hoop

When the Dog Hoop™ arrived at the Good Dog! office, I was very excited and couldn’t wait to try it out. But, before I opened the package, I thought it was a basketball goal for dogs. I thought, “How am I going to get the dogs to put the ball in the hoop?” Much to my surprise, it was a hoop for humans! The object is to throw a tennis ball at the hoop and train your dog to bring the ball back.

The hoop did require some assembly, but I was able to put it together in just a few minutes – without tools. Basically, it’s a small basketball goal with a narrow hoop. The stand is made from PVC pipe and has a metal stake which sticks in the ground (and makes it easy to move around); the hoop is a normal basketball hoop with a PVC elbow on the bottom that’s just big enough for a tennis ball. Attached to that is a bell that rings when you make a basket.

I tried it with Chops, Good Dog!’s Chief Test Dog. Since she’s part Golden Retriever, I thought she’d be really good at this game. I was wrong! Not enough Retriever in her, I guess. She stayed interested for about one minute, and then took the ball and wanted me to chase her. I was very disappointed, because I was having a great time.

Next, I took it home to my dogs for a game of 3-on-1. I thought with my wide variety of dogs – Jack Russell Terrier, Keeshond mix, and Alaskan Malamute – at least one of them would think this was as great as I did. I was wrong again. All three played for a total of three shots, and then Fisher (the Malamute) went and stretched on the deck while Mandy (our Keeshond mix) returned to the house for her hedgehog toy. Harley (the energetic Jack Russell Terrier) did stick with me a little longer, but he then joined Mandy in a game of “kill the hedgehog.”

I think the Dog Hoop is both a great idea and a lot of fun, even if the test dogs didn’t. My dogs have never really played anything like this before, and they get distracted easily, but I think it would be great for the right dog. Now your job is to figure out if you have the right dog or not!

Gary Hansen, the inventor, told us, “As an owner of a retriever-holic dog, I realized the need for a game in which both parties can get enjoyment from playing. Hence the Dog Hoop. Instead of throwing the ball aimlessly for your dog, you now have something to shoot for.”

If your dog likes to retrieve, then this is a natural for him and for you – if you like to shoot baskets!

The Dog Hoop comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. To order, send a check or money order for $39.95 plus $5.00 shipping to G.B. Hansen Co. Inc., PO Box 39697, Minneapolis, MN 55439. If you have questions, call 612-844-0760.

Wendy Houtz