My heart beats dog® and it also deals with the fear of my dog dying. I’m a lifelong dog mom so this isn’t the first time I’ve had these feelings nor will it be the last. Inevitably when I run into people walking their dogs, shopping at a pet supply store, or visiting the vet’s office, someone asks “how old is he?” I started shaving a few years off his real age when “Oh, he’s that old” or “well, at least he’s lived a good life” are tossed back at me after revealing to complete strangers that my dog is 12 years old. A young 12, my wife reminds me and the strangers.
I’ve begun to wake up in the middle of the night as if an internal alarm triggers me to be sure my dog is breathing. The fear of my dog dying is all too real, and I am not alone in this terror. I realize time will pass no matter how I decide to spend it—in agony and anxiety worrying about my dog dying or living fully and presently in the moment.
I’ve been through the death of a dog before, so I know a lot about feelings of grief and anticipatory grief. When your dog dies, your shared experiences and memories do not die. All of the things you did together do not die. Missing your dog nonstop to the point you feel nonfunctioning does not die, either. Not by a longshot and not for a long time. Love is a continuum, but so is grief. Love grows stronger and remains even in the face of grief. However, there are things I’ve learned to do to cope with the fear of my dog dying and I invite you to learn from me and apply these tips to your own fears.
How Can I Cope With Fear Of My Dog Dying?
All of the fears and tears I had about my first dog dying didn’t stop the inevitable. All of my obsessing about what life would be like without her didn’t change a thing. Death stops for no one, and it’s something we all have in common. We are all born and we will all die. I still fear my dog dying, but I’ve become better about catching myself in the moment.
No amount of here-on-earth bargaining will stop the inevitable. I worry for me and how to be in the world without him. When my first dog died, I sought the help of a grief counselor. Of the many things she taught me, one sticks out in my mind vividly because I practice the technique regularly.
Set time aside to think about your dog dying. A lot of “talking heads” will tell you to not think about it, which is unrealistic. Of course you’ll be thinking about it! Rather than let the thoughts control you and the time you have with your dog, allocate a segment of every day, if needed, to think about your dog dying. Perhaps you set 10 minutes aside to think about it, cry, maybe write something in a journal, talk to a friend or loved one, or text with someone you trust. But do put the time in.
When you start to have death thoughts about your dog at any other time during the day, remind yourself now is not the time to think about it. You aren’t denying yourself the thoughts, but rather you are setting the time aside to dwell on it, think about it, and give the death fear your undivided attention. Once the time is up, you let it go. I use the timer on my phone to remind me. I’ll share ways I’ve learned to squash the thoughts when they come at any time.
Practice Managing Anticipatory Fear
No matter what type of fear you obsess about, this technique can work. Maybe you fixate on what someone thinks of you, if your boss will be miserable, what an ex is doing these days, or fear of your dog dying. By allocating a certain period of time to expend on the “worry,” you tuck it away and don’t revisit it until the next day.
Fear allocation time is a lot like setting a television program to record. The recording mechanism comes on, records the show, and later you view it. You delete it or save it. Fear allocation works the same way: You set the time aside, visit it, move past it, and know it will record again tomorrow.
If every single day, you ate a big banana split or a large sundae with all your favorite toppings, eventually the results would show on the scale. I’m all for body image and empowerment of self, but too much of something can turn really bad really fast. Anticipatory fear is the same way. If you think about your dog dying over and over, not only will you not stop death, but you’ll be robbed of quality time spent with your dog.
Actor and advocate Michael J. Fox once said, “Don’t spend a lot of time imagining the worst-case scenario. It rarely goes down as you imagine it will, and if by some fluke it does, you will have lived it twice.”
Think about that: You worry about your dog dying and your dog dies anyway. You give the fear and anxiety double the power. It’s hard to focus on the here and now, I know. That’s why you’ll allocate time to think about it, talk to friends, scribble in a journal, or sit on your bed and hug the dog and think. You don’t deny the fear but you don’t allow it to control you.
Acceptance of the fear isn’t a weakness nor does it mean you agree with it. By acknowledging the fear and giving it a certain amount of time, you learn to work through it.
Things That Are A Boatload Of Crap About A Dog Dying
Let’s get a bit philosophical. No matter if you own your dog or your dog belonged to someone else, he or she is going to eventually die. That fine balance between embracing the short flicker of time dogs spend on this earth and the indescribable impact they have on our hearts is a tricky one for sure.
A heart that beats dog® also breaks dog and there’s no amount of time, techniques, therapy sessions, medications, or “deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers” that will stop that pain. I recall telling my grief therapist I just want the pain of grief to be gone. She reminded me grief is a process and there is no fast forward button on it. You need to walk through the fire to come out on the other side.
Oh, and I hate the following words and phrases used in conjunction with a dog’s death:
- She’s/He’s gone
- Final goodbye
- Let her go
- She’s moved on
- The loss of a dog
- Put to sleep
When death finally comes, I know people mean well. I offer the same condolences and feel the pain deeply. However, the collective love and respect from other wounded warriors who understand is something to hang onto when the time comes. Friends and their kindness have sustained me and continues to do so, some of them cyber style and others IRL.
It’s all semantics, but death is final in terms of the body. Where the soul goes afterwards is something you and your belief system must work through. For me that place is heaven. When the time comes and a beloved dog dies, there are some things you’ll wish died with your dogs. Namely, the pain of a dog’s death is the worst pain I’ve ever known. The rational human being I am knows wanting my pain to go away is a big ask that will never come this side of the rainbow bridge. I’m the one stuck holding the umbrella.
There are some things you can do when your dog does die, and I will post more about that at the bottom but share these wisdom nuggets here:
Saying “never again” was a crock of shit. I used to say I would never again allow a dog to share my life and that I could not bear the pain of losing them. I’ve learned pain is the price we pay for a love that big. I’ve learned each dog is my heart dog and they each are their own unique individuals.
I’ve learned the pain of a dog-themed tattoo is temporary and kindergarten compared to the grad school course of living through your dog dying.
I’ve learned saying my deceased dog’s name and introducing her to people she didn’t encounter in her time on earth keeps her love alive and her soul ensconced with mine.
I’ve learned dogs impart lessons and wisdom on our lives. If I became a big blob of eternal sadness after her death, I wouldn’t be honoring how she lived on earth and how she thrives in heaven. She died but her love didn’t. Almost two months after she died, my wife gave me a locket with the words ‘Love Never Ends’ on it. It is so true.
Things To Consider If You Obsess About Your Dog Dying
Even if ________ (your dog’s name here) wasn’t yours, he or she would die someday. So while Dexter, my dog, is here on earth with me, it is in my DNA to make his life the best possible. This is the line of thinking you can adopt to retrain your brain to live in the now.
For me, the career I’ve chosen, this blog I write on, and the dedication to helping other pet parents helps me fight against the terror of my dog dying. If you allow the terror of things that haven’t happened to take space in your mind, you will lose every time. Anticipatory fear has squatters’ rights and it is very hard to evict. Hard, but not impossible. I love hard so of course I fear and grieve hard. How about you?
When thoughts of your dog dying start to sneak in outside of your allocated worry time, ask yourself WWMDD (What Would My Dog Do)? Would my dog be obsessing and in terror or would he continue to exude joy and want the best for me? Dogs are incredible teachers, perhaps the best on the planet, because their lessons are eternal and they ask for very little in return.
At the end of any given week, I’m telling 30 or so people how sorry I am for the death of their beloved pet. I am sorry because they are left with a razor-edged piece of broken glass beating inside their chest where their totally intact heart once thrived.
I say I am sorry because I understand and empathize. And then I remind myself thank God that wasn’t me and my dog is still with me. It’s all I can do as a human being with heavy emotions and heavy empathy to not give into the terror. It sucks to see happy people when your dog is dead but the circle of life is designed with earthly beginnings and earthly endings. Someone will always rejoice while someone else is in pain.
When I brought a second Cocker Spaniel into my life, I felt like I was in a haunted house as I gingerly walked across the creaky floor, waiting for someone to jump out and take him from me – it’s a terrible feeling.
My therapist told me to turn the lights on. Just like that. “Then turn the lights on,” she said. You can’t live in darkness and fear or you aren’t the best version of you for your dog. She helped me understand:
- Grief is real and you can’t skip over pain;
- Pain is the price we pain for big love;
- We suffer so they don’t have to;
I used to cringe inside whenever someone told me “it’s a final act of love” when a dog is euthanized to stop suffering or pain. I’ve since learned those words are true, but that’s for another time and another post. Your dog is likely very much alive if you are reading this post. An earthly “ending” is a next world beginning, and one I intend to be a part of when my time on earth is over.
How To Mentally Prepare If I Fear My Dog Dying
Everyone processes grief differently. For me, when the moment came, it felt like a bolt of lightning hit my heart in a way I could not fathom. The pain was shattering, unrelenting, all-consuming, and I wanted to sleep and not wake up but I didn’t want to die. If I slept, I didn’t have to be present in the world and realize her time on earth was over. I also didn’t want her to suffer and stay alive for me. It was fair, then, to allow her to cross over and put her earthly body to rest. It took me years to take comfort in that and not feel as if I stood by and allowed a veterinarian to kill my dog.
When your dog dies, it’s as if you are driving during a blizzard and you skid on ice. You completely bypass the tree you are about to hit and instead, you nosedive into a black hole. That’s how it felt for me.
Whether you believe in an afterlife, a heaven, a rainbow bridge, a reincarnation or nothing at all, there is one fact on which everyone can agree: when you die, you will be in exactly the same state as your dog who passed away.
The idea, belief, notion, and hope of our dog’s souls carrying on in heaven (or insert non-earthly place here), is what sustains me.
I talked about setting time aside each day (if needed) to think about your dog dying. If you find yourself thinking about your dog dying outside this allotted time, try changing the channel.
Changing the channel is a technique my wife taught me. You must be cognizant you are having the thoughts in order to flip them away. Here’s how it works: You are watching television and a commercial comes on or you are simply channel surfing. Much like flipping through the channels on television, you flip through channels in your mind. You literally catch yourself and redirect your fear thought to a positive one.
Here’s where it gets interesting: Sometimes you can’t snap yourself out of it. In those times, a journal or index cards come in handy. Action is the enemy of anxiety. When you are wrapped up in fear of your dog dying, it’s hard to think of snapping out of it. Hell, I’ve had thoughts of life without my dog and had no idea I was thinking them until I look up and the Jeopardy credits are rolling. Did you ever do that when you’ve been out driving? Suddenly you are a town over or pulling into a parking lot and you wonder how you got there.
If you are serious about wanting to divert your feelings into a positive space, here’s what helps me when I get wrapped up in thoughts about my dog dying: I have a book of quotes in a three-ring binder. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s full of quotes I see on Instagram, Facebook, and on the Internet in general. I type them up, print them, cut them out, and sort of scrapbook them into a three-ring binder. I go to that binder when thoughts creep in and during anticipatory fear allotted time. They help to ground me.
I write. I blog and share my thoughts, research, and health and wellness tips with you all. I call them “fidoses of reality” because they are. You don’t have to be a writer to write things down. Jot them on your phone, on a tablet, or on your laptop. Whatever works. Pour your pain out onto a page so the thoughts out of your head.
There’s a proverb I think about from time to time. “Take what you want says God — and pay for it.”
How Not To Let Death Fears Affect Your Dog
As you know, dogs are very in tune with our emotions. They may not always show it, but they sense when things are not right with us. This alone is often enough to snap me back to reality.
No matter their age, dogs are really good at reading a person, especially their owners. Dogs react to sadness and may even avoid you if they feel your angst and nervous energy.
Get real with your fears. In that journal or quote book, you can explore what exactly is triggering your death buttons. I once wrote in my journal that it isn’t good to love a dog so much because they just end up breaking your heart in a gazillion pieces. I now know better. When your dog dies, your experiences do not die. It’s the body that goes, but the love never ends.
If your life is better for having a dog in it, that makes you incredibly special. Ive learned to give myself grace for that. Dogs don’t randomly obsess with anyone. Some dogs seem to love everyone, but dogs always know who their person is. And if their existence on this planet is to give us joy and companionship, I owe it my dogs to spend my existence living in the now.
Forever is composed of nows.— Emily Dickinson
I imagine my dogs living in heaven together and welcoming me and my wife on arrival. I feel like heaven isn’t a destination but the next logical step. Maybe for you, life ends here on earth. That’s more of a reason to live more fully in the moment. Have the “fi-doses of reality,” but stop and change the channel when fears torment the truth.
I picture fear as this huge faceless dark monster who challenges me. I ask myself what my dog would do in the face of fear. My dog would do what needs to be done and then move on. Reality is bigger than fear. Living large in the now defeats terror.
How To Kick Fear Where The Sun Don’t Shine
Fears become as powerful as we allow them. The next time fear creeps in, ask yourself this:
Am I caring for my dog to the best of my ability? If not, what can you change so you feel you are doing your best? More money? A better job? More time together? Change what you can.
Whether your dog is 12 or 2, a puppy or a senior, walks on fours or hobbles on three, is in a wheelchair or runs like a mustang, living in the now is a must for peace of mind and quality time with your dog.
Now ask yourself this: Do I want my dog to be living his time on earth stuck with a mom or dad who has fears and tears, terrors and waking nightmares about the lack of his presence someday? No! Even if a dog is older and sleeps more or young and full of energy, when you are freaking out internally, they can sense it in some way.
You make your dog happier by being happier in the now. You make you happier and at peace by living in the now.
If you live without fear, you aren’t alive. We all fear something. I get so aggravated when people say to ignore the fear. You have to dive into it, deal with it, acknowledge it, give it a voice, let it be real, and then admonish it from controlling you.
Tether yourself to this: What makes you feel better? The terror of fear and the thought of your dog dying or the act of doing something now that you can control and be happy about?
Time is too slow for those who wait,
too swift for those who fear,
too long for those who grieve,
too short for those who rejoice,
but for those who love, time is not.— Henry van Dyke
Living With The Fear Of Your Dog Dying
If you share life with a dog, someday that dog will die. That’s the worst case scenario. You don’t have to like it — and I hate that. But it’s the reality for all of us: we will likely outlive our dogs. Thinking and acting on what I can do here and now, is what helps me when I start down the terror thoughts road.
I practice surrender with the time I allot, I practice acknowledgment when thoughts creep in, I practice helping others when I know things they may not, I practice focus on the way I behave in the now.
If you can’t function, if you can’t hold work, if you can’t have enjoyment, then professional help would be something to consider.
Consider this: Someone fears losing you but they manage. What would you tell a person who fears losing you and has terrorizing thoughts about it? That’s what your dog would likely want you to know.
How To Live Life With A Heart That Beats Dog®
My dogs shape who I am. To toss that away isn’t fair to my dog in the now or my dog’s legacy someday.
Dogs give love unselfishly and that doesn’t die when bodies do. There aren’t many things that live eternal, but love is one of them.
I will pour the love I was given back into the world and in that way, my dogs never die. I will do this because it is in my soul, my beliefs, my heart, and will sustain me until I am reunited with my dogs. Can you imagine that day? I tuck that away and go there when I feel the pangs of fear coming. I wonder sometimes if me writing this now is helping someone five years from now reading this and I know I’m creating a future solution to defeating terror. Life is cool like that.
I talked with a friend once about what our dogs would do if we were the first to die. We wouldn’t want our dogs to give up, especially knowing their lives are much shorter than ours. So why should we give up on them and allow mortality fears to control us and rob the now? Grief is the price we pay for a love so strong.
The reason it hurts so much when a dog dies is because dogs don’t judge us, admonish us, leave us, they accept us, and they are innocent and dependent on whatever we do or don’t do for and with them.
No matter if you allow another dog to enter your life or not, that moment of time with your dog will never be replaced. That is yours. That pocket of love is yours. That special bond is yours. You don’t replace anyone or anything.
The heart is expandable – and it wants what it wants. How long you grieve is not a measure of how much you loved.
Next Steps In Fear Management
Take the time to carry your fear with you but do not let it be the driver. You control the steering wheel that is right here, right now, in this moment. Fear cannot control you ‘in the now’ unless you pull the car over, get out, and allow fear to drive.
Change your self-dialogue. Wherever you think your dog’s soul is headed after earth, give yourself permission to acknowledge you’ll be there, too.
What can you control? Do that thing. Do it again. Write down things you can control and do those things.
Is your dog alive right now? If yes, what can you do to have a quality moment or more with your dog?
If not, can you post about, share, or talk to someone about that dog? In that way, his or her legacy is alive here on earth while he or she lives eternally in _____ (your non-earthly place here).
When I talk about Brandy Noel, her life, the things she taught me, the medical problems she had, what I learned, and then pass that on to others, her legacy is alive and well.
I wish I had the answer you are seeking and that’s how to make the fear of my dog dying go away. It’s a mindset shift using the tips above.
Dogs change who you are when they are alive and they change who you are when they die. Dogs are the heroes of my heart and my heart beats dog®.
Do you fear your dog dying? How are you coping? Have the above tips helped? I’d love to learn more about your journey. Please comment below.
Resources For Grieving A Dog
For help with dealing with emotions after the death of a dog, please read these articles. Always seek professional help if the angst becomes too much to bear: