How to deal with your children’s reactions if your dog goes missing
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How to deal with your children’s reactions if your dog goes missing

Dogs
Health & Safety

Realising that your dog has wandered off, gone missing or potentially been stolen can be hugely distressing and upsetting for their owners, and possibly, even more so for the children of the household who live with your dog. Children often bond very strongly with their pets, particularly dogs, and knowing how to deal with your child’s reaction at the same time as doing what you can to work to find your dog or get them home can add additional stress and worry to this traumatic time.

What you tell your child, how involved they are in the search and generally, how they cope with things will all depend on a range of factors including the age of your child, and in this article, we will cover some tips on how to deal with your children’s questions and emotions if your dog goes missing.

Read on to learn more.

What it means to be missing

When your dog is missing, fear and uncertainty abounds, and in some ways this can be worse than if your dog has died, as at least then you have closure and a very straightforward sequence of events for your child to cope with.

Uncertainty, worry and feelings of helplessness are all natural feelings when your dog is missing, and your child will be feeling all of these things too, as well as confusion over why your dog might have wandered off in the first place, and if they were not happy with you.

During the early stages

When you first become aware that your dog is missing and you have unsuccessfully double-checked all of the places that they might be, panic often follows shortly after. Not only is panic counter-productive when it comes to helping to find your lost dog, but how you react will also affect your child and their own reactions to the situation, and so you should try to remain calm, reassuring and in control, even if you don’t feel any of these things!

It is understandable that your child will be upset and possibly become very emotional and shocked at the loss, and it can be helpful to direct your child’s energies into helping you with proactive strategies for the search, and helping to get your dog back.

It is also wise to be open and honest with your children, albeit possibly editing or leaving out elements that may worry your child more, such as the possibility that your dog has been stolen or may have got hurt; don’t tell your child that your dog will be back shortly or that you will definitely find your dog, as these false reassurances may well come back to haunt you later on.

The terminology you use around your child is important too; to say that your dog may have wandered off makes the disappearance sound as if your dog simply spotted something interesting and went to investigate it, while saying that your dog ran away implies intent, and that your dog was so unhappy with you that they felt the need to leave!

Do not pretend that the dog is not missing, or tell your kids that it is visiting a friend or out for a walk; again, you will be left with explanations down the line that will impact your child’s trust in you.

Your child’s part in things

If your dog is an adept escape artist like some Siberian huskies are, you probably have firm rules about not leaving doors and gates open, or supervising the dog when they are outside. It is of course possible that something that your child did may have partially led to the dog going missing, for instance if they weren’t careful about securing the gate or watching the dog when they said they would.

However, it is vitally important that you don’t apportion blame to your child, nor let them think that what happened may have been their fault; the onus for caring and being responsible for your dog should not fall to your children, and mistakes can and do happen.

Explaining to your child about the nature of dogs, and roaming desires and natural behaviours can help your child to get some perspective on what has happened.

Involving your child proactively

Involving your child in helping to search for your dog or manage the search is a great way to make your child feel useful, involved and as if they are doing something, and how much or how little your child can do will depend on their age and how responsible they are.

For younger children, you may wish to take them with you when looking for your dog in the car and otherwise assign them “duties,” such as watching out for dogs on their side of the car windows. Younger children can also help you to make “lost dog” posters, and if these are not actually appropriate to use in the search, you can pretend they were anyway!

Older children who are computer literate can help in a whole variety of different ways; posting on websites and forums that help to find lost dogs should be done by the adult owner in the first instance, but you can set your child to work monitoring responses and suggestions.

Older children may also be able to man the phones at home while you’re out searching, in case anyone finds your dog and reads the number on their collar tag.

If your dog does not return

It is possible that you may not find your dog, and that they will not come back home of their own volition, sad as this may seem. At some point you will have to make an informed decision to stop proactively searching, when all viable avenues have become exhausted and there is nothing useful that you can do any more.

This can be very hard for children to come to terms with, as they may feel that you have given up on the dog; however, explain to them that the missing adverts are still up, you will still keep an eye out for your dog, and that your dog’s microchip might be scanned in the future, which will potentially provide a lead.

At some stage, you will need to draw a line under things and let your child know that it is highly unlikely that your dog will return, and that they need to come to terms with this. The uncertainty over what happened to your dog can distress children for weeks or months after the event, so be prepared for this and talk to your child about their concerns.

Try to encourage your children to perform their own activities that will help them to attain closure, such as writing a goodbye letter to your dog, holding a small memorial in which you can all share memories of your dog, or anything else that helps your child to cope.

Finally, make sure that your child knows that even if you ultimately get another dog, your original dog will always be welcomed back, and will still have a home with you if they do finally return.

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