The first time we talked, she started to cry over the phone, struggling to get each word out. It had only been five days since her 5-year-old GSP had unexpectedly died. He had been fine the previous day and then he was gone the next evening, an unknown organ failure. When she bought him, she also bought his littermate. The two brothers had been together since birth and now five years later one was all of a sudden just gone. Her other dog was a little lost, not sure where his brother was. As part of dealing with the grief she was trying to adopt another dog, she wanted a dog about his age so he had someone to play with.
My heart hurt for her, her pain from the loss was so raw. Even though I didn’t know her I just wanted to end her pain. The dog she was asking about was already adopted, but I found myself reeling through my older dogs thinking of any of my own breeders who might be available for adoption. Then I caught myself; nothing was going to fix this woman’s pain right now.
The truth about loss is that it hurts. It hurts deep down in your gut. It takes away the vibrance of life, the colors of the trees are duller, the sounds of the birds are flatter. It makes you feel wrong for smiling and enjoying laughter and it makes you feel guilty for thinking about anything else.
A major reason people get into the market for a new dog is because they recently lost their dog. They have a void in their life and want to fill it.
People will come at all stages of grief when they call you, some will have grieved and are now ready for a new dog, while others are still working through it. You’ll know they are past the grief stage when you talk to them and they are focused on the new puppy and aren’t trying to replace the dog they lost, but rather are looking to bring a new dog into their home.
—The two types of people
I find there are two types of people when it comes to replacing a dog that has passed. The first type of people have a lifestyle that includes a dog and the second kind of people are the type that needs to grieve the loss of their dog before being able to give their love to a new dog. Well, it’s tough to tell sometimes, but I always look to their expectations.
The first kind of people, the ones whose lifestyle includes a dog, are completely aware of the fact that dogs simply don’t live as long as us and so they understand that when their dog passes, they will want to get another dog right away, because their lifestyle is incomplete without a dog. They like to hear nails clicking on the kitchen floor and to vacuum dog hair off the couch, it’s just who they are.
These people are usually pretty easy to work with. When they call you, they will use their recently lost dog in reference, explaining what they liked, and the sort of thing they are looking for, but they will be less picky about it, it will be obvious they are looking for a new dog, not trying to clone their old dog. They will embrace the new dog’s personality, whatever it is. Their requests will be more practical, such as size, temperament, or drive, and less about personality.
In my experience, most of these people are people with kids or who are older and have been through loss before. They tend to have a good support network, so all their emotions were not tied up in the dog they lost. This allows their world to be a bit more stable when they lose a dog, since they didn’t lose their whole support network.
For the second group of people, the ones who need a grieving time, they will need to be without a dog for months, sometimes years, in order to get over their loss.
Some people really can’t give their love to a new dog until they grieve the older one. They tend to be the people who compare every dog to the dog they lost and find all other dogs lacking in some way or another. In their eyes their dog was perfectly imperfect and, like losing a friend, they are grieving the loss of the friendship and simply don’t have the energy to put into a new friendship.
You usually won’t get calls from these people. They know they need the time to grieve.
However, for some people the loss is so raw and uncomfortable that they are desperate to get past the feeling of loss. These people are trying to replace their dog exactly. If they start telling you specific coloring down to the side they want the eye patch…usually that’s an indication they’re trying to find a clone of their old dog, and this is a red flag.
Truth is, you may have the absolute best dog in the world for them, maybe even better than what they had, but if their expectations are that they’ll be exactly like their old dog, it’s a recipe for disaster. You’ll never be able to replace the dog they lost; no two dogs are the same. If they expect a clone you won’t be able to provide that. It’s an unrealistic expectation.
Like me, you may feel deep empathy and compassion for them when they call, but I wouldn’t sell them a dog until they are past this phase in their grief. This will be better for them, but save you a lot of pain in the future. The most dissatisfied puppy buyers you’ll have are people whose expectations are beyond what you can provide. And, while Dolly the cloned sheep did exist, even she didn’t live up to the expectations, as she died at six and a half years, hardly full age for a sheep.
And worse, puppies are way more work than older dogs, there is a good chance that getting a puppy will only be aggravating for people in this situation, as what they really want is to have their old dog back, but that’s just not possible.
If they are looking for a replacement immediately, that’s the red flag, the sign they are not done with grief. If you feel they’ll be a great owner and good fit for your dogs, you can sell them a dog, but maybe suggest that you won’t have a puppy for them for about 4-6 months, this should ensure them time to grieve and create more realistic expectations of their next dog.
If you sell them a dog right away, then know there’s a high probability your dog will fail their expectations, and you’ll be sure to be blamed for the whole issue, despite your good intentions.
Occasionally you have people who think they are the grieving people, but they’re really the lifestyle people. What I mean is that they think they are supposed to have a break in between dogs, as in they believe there’s a required time to wait after losing a dog before they can bring a new one.
This idea usually stems from them feeling guilty getting a new dog. They feel as though getting a new dog right away would say they didn’t love the dog they just lost, as though they are easily replaceable. They feel awful about this idea and so they hold off getting another dog.
The odd thing about this situation is they are more worried about the perception of their grief than they are actually grieving. Sometimes they heard a grieving-type person talk shamefully about someone who lost a dog and got another one right away, something the grief-type dog owner could never fathom doing. Sometimes this comes from experience with shelters and rescues and their arbitrary requirement to wait six months after a loss before adopting another dog.
In essence, these people have put the loss of their dog in perspective. They have moved through the grieving process, accepted the death of their dog, and they are ready, but are worried that other people, people, like you the breeder, will see them as coarse or disingenuous for wanting to get another dog so seemingly soon.
If you find someone who has guilt over wanting another dog after losing theirs, then give them the break. Let them know that they are lifestyle dog people and that you know, that they know, they’ll never be able to replace the dog they lost, but instead, they have a lot of love to give, and it would be best to give that love to a new dog. Let them know that you recognize that the continued pain they feel is in not having something to love on, not actually for losing their dog.
It’s a freeing conversation. Sometimes it’s like you’re releasing them and the trepidation drops from their voice and it becomes lighter, happier. They’re relieved. They will appreciate you for seeing the truth in the matter and having an open mind.
Want to Get the “Assessing Grieving Puppy Buyers” Cheatsheet?
A Quick Note on Death and Dying
During the time I was in the military, I was trying to finish my business degree, but man, was it a pain, always transferring schools. My 7th university finally had an online curriculum. The only problems was that there was only one online course for one of my general education requirement classes and that was “Death and Dying” what an exciting topic, let me tell you…
I was literally dreading the course, but hey, got to get those grades, right? I found the class very uncomfortable, it was hard to confront all these fears I had about dying and seeing people I love, die. Yet, I’m so glad I took it.
I wanted to share a few things that really helped me from the course that I’ve used in my breeding program.
1. We Are All Going To Die –and that’s a good thing!
We are all going to die, and this is actually a good thing. If we had thousands of years to get things done, we would never feel any pressure to accomplish anything. If you dig to the root of all motivation, it’s because we are going to die, which makes our time precious, we only have so much.
We have expectations for our life, how it will turn out, and where we should be at a certain age. If we meet those expectations we will feel good about our life and if we don’t, then often we have anxiety or depression from it. Anxiety is fear of the future, while depression is regret for the past.
When we are young, planning and setting our expectations, we don’t have all the variables we need to consider, for example I thought I would just “have a husband” around 25, but you can’t plan that, it wasn’t like I was going to go shopping in isle 5 at Target to find the right guy. So if you feel anxiety or depression over how your life is going, check your expectations, and see if there were other factors that played in to get the results you have, maybe you’re actually in the best place, and if not, what small daily changes can you make to get there? Life is the culmination of your daily habits.
2. Quality or Quantity of Life?
Knowing that we are going to die begs a quality v quantity question, do we want a longer lifespan in pain? Would it be better to hang on in a miserable state in the hopes of obtaining quantity of life?
This easily applies to dogs. We all dread making the decision to put a dog down who is suffering. I’ve been lucky that many of my dogs have made the choice on their own to go when they want to. They know when it’s their time and they’ll make the choice to pass when and where they want. I think dogs’ intuition is stronger than ours. They have less fear of dying.
Quality of life over quantity can help you put in perspective losing a puppy. If you lose a puppy because they were born with an issue or a deficiency in genetics, then it can be a relief when they pass. Knowing that you gave them lots of love, they’re no longer suffering, and they’ll not go on living a lack luster life.
Dogs are so beautiful in that they completely live for the moment. The most future planning they do is burying a bone for later. They never sit and stew about a decision they made in the past, they just show up, ready for the next thing. They serve as a constant reminder to make the most of our day, each day, just as it is.
3. Death is harder on those that are left behind, not the person who died.
The death of someone isn’t hard on the person who died. It’s harder on those they leave behind. In a way, this is a relief, you recognize that you are grieving and it’s your pain, your loss, your thing to get through, and thankfully, the one you lost is okay. No longer in pain, no longer suffering, no longer worrying about paying bills or getting stuck in traffic.
This is an important one when dealing with grieving buyers who call. Let them know that the dog that passed is okay, he’s not mad at them, doesn’t blame them and is grateful for the love and care he was given. He’s fine now, and now is a time for the human to heal the loss.
Many times I’ve seen grieving buyers tell me that their other dog is beside himself in grief and is lost and doesn’t know what to do. They use this as justification for getting another dog right away, trying to put a bandaid on a bullet hole.
The truth is, their remaining dog is reacting to them, the owner, and the grief they are feeling. They don’t understand why you’re looking at them with sad eyes, why you’re buying them more toys, or giving them table scraps, they’re acting that way, because you are. They see that you’re off, so they’re acting off. The healing needs to come from the humans, they’re the ones who are broken in a loss like this.
Now I’ll be honest, this is like the absolute most difficult thing to explain to a buyer, and I’m not so sure you need to. Telling someone they’re broken and they’re the problem doesn’t usually go over well. But, in times where I felt it was necessary to help them shift their perspective, I was able to dance around the topic, by going on about how beautiful it is that dogs only live in the moment. That they don’t lose their buddy and then go into an existential crisis where they think of all the times they’ll go to the dog park and their best friend isn’t there. They simply don’t think that way. That’s what we humans do, that’s why loss is so much harder on us.
So I remind them that their dog is okay, and that getting another dog is only a good idea if it’s a good idea for them, the humans. If they lost their dog tragically, tell them it’s okay, it happens, it doesn’t make them a bad person, or a bad owner. You may notice where they made a mistake, but pointing that out is not helpful, they’ve already beat themselves up so much more than you could and so there’s no reason for us to add insult to injury. Now, if they are asking for ways to prevent this being a problem next time, that’s another matter, and by all means, gently, help them plan better, but only if they ask.
I know today’s topic is icky and uncomfortable, but I’m glad you stayed with me until the end. I hope this helps shed light and prepare you for those conversations, which happen more often than I wish they did.
Between dealing with animals who have a shorter lifespan than us, dealing with the quantity of dogs that we do, and dealing with newborns, the most fragile time for an animal, death is encountered more frequently as a breeder. I wouldn’t say that I am immune to it. I feel it every time. Yet, I am able to put it in perspective quicker, more easily now, and that makes it less consuming.
To help you, I made a worksheet that goes over the quadrant of grieving buyers and if they are or aren’t ready for a puppy, with some questions to think about when working with them. You can download it below.