Somewhere over the rainbow bridge: Is now the right time for a new dog?

February 15, 2024 - 7 min read
Puppies sleeping

Meet Connor (2004–2018). 

A close-up of a white, curly-haired Cockapoo dog resting its head on a cushion, with a soft-focus background that hints at a cozy indoor setting. The dog's eyes convey a sense of calm and contentment.

This heart-melting little Cockapoo made his journey to Rainbow Bridge about five and a half years prior to the publication of this article. He was 14—a long life for a Canis familaris, but not long enough to satisfy this homo sapien blogster. 

Connor was buff (think color, not Schwarzenegger), weighed 17 pounds, and ran away from cats and squirrels. He would frequently deliver rapturous hugs while fully extended on his hind legs; in fact, when my family and I first visited the breeder, this nifty trick is what set him apart from his Doodle kin and punched his ticket to our home. 

I left for college when Connor was 2, but lived at home again at various points in my early 20s, aka the millennial dream. Suffice it to say, Connor was a major figure in my life for a long time, and a close friend even after I left home for good, and he became My Parents’ Dog. 

He was happy, healthy, and frisky—until one day he stopped standing on his hind legs. At the vet’s office, I watched him pass while he snuggled in his father’s arms. I must admit, part of me wishes that wasn’t my last image of him. I’m not sure when I’ll summon the fortitude to go through something like that again. 

Connor was my first—and, to date, only—dog. And after such a loss, there's no right moment to decide when (or if) a new dog should enter the picture. So read on as we explore the emotional and practical considerations of welcoming another furry friend after the last one has passed on. 

Understanding your grief

Pets are family members. Full stop. 

That may seem obvious if you’re a pet parent, but for others, it can be surprisingly tough to grasp. So let’s be clear: Grief is a natural response to losing a family member, furry or otherwise. In fact, when a pet dies, people often experience a level of grief that’s comparable to when a human loved one passes away.

Unfortunately, some pet parents find that there’s a social stigma surrounding their grief, and others fail to comprehend or validate their suffering. This can make grieving even more difficult. There’s also ample evidence that opting for euthanasia—a necessary and humane decision—can still make grieving harder still. 

The process of grieving a pet varies greatly from person to person. It can last up to a year, but that’s just a rough average. Some may experience a longer period of sadness and longing, while others might find comfort in their memories and arrive at quick acceptance.

As I can tell you from personal experience, the very memories and memorials that bring some people peace might bring sorrow to others. The little urn-and-pawprint combo that we received after Connor’s passing was a lovely keepsake…and I have trouble looking at it. Fortunately, this 14x11" photo that graces my parents’ living room wall reminds me more of his life than his death: 

A photograph of a fluffy, light-colored Cockapoo dog lounging on a red blanket over a geometric-patterned comforter, framed in a wooden picture frame with a white matte border.

Here’s the important thing to remember: This period of mourning is an individual journey, one that involves a wide range of emotions and unpredictable psychological impacts. There’s no one right way to do it. As a result, there’s no certain timeline for when (or if) you should think about getting a new pet. 

In the meantime, it’s healthy to express your feelings of grief rather than suppressing them. Support can come in many forms, like from friends and family who understand the bond you shared with your pet, online communities, or professional help from a counselor specializing in pet loss. There are even pet loss support groups you can turn to. Embracing a support network can provide comfort and guidance, helping you to heal at your own pace.

Signs you might be ready for a new pup

When you lose your dog, the thought of getting a new one can trigger a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. As a rule of thumb, when your memories of your dog start bringing more smiles than tears, that may be a sign that you’re nearly ready for a new dog. 

Memorials and keepsakes—like that photo of Connor—can help you move toward acceptance. And remember, moving on or harboring happy memories doesn't mean you've forgotten about your pet, or that the loss has stopped hurting; it simply means you're finding a way to cherish their memory while opening up to new possibilities.

Look, you’ll probably know when you’ve got the itch that only paws can scratch. Maybe you’re already catching yourself browsing pet adoption websites. Maybe you’re feeling excited at the thought of puppy training. Or maybe you’re simply missing the routine and companionship that come with dog parenthood. If so—and if you’ve got the time, space, and resources to care for a new dog—it might just be time for a new furry family member.

A close-up of a concerned yellow Labrador Retriever with a gentle expression, receiving an examination by a veterinarian whose hands are shown holding a clipboard, in a clinical setting.

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A close-up of a concerned yellow Labrador Retriever with a gentle expression, receiving an examination by a veterinarian whose hands are shown holding a clipboard, in a clinical setting.

Consider the impact on your household

“This is my last dog,” my father said when Connor passed. I believe him. For one thing, taking care of a dog deep into your senior years—wwhile certainly not impossible—can be a challenge. 

Whether it’s due to age, lifestyle, new children, or any other circumstances, sometimes it’s just hard to bring home a new dog. It’s important to keep this in mind even if you’re not mourning an old, furry friend. But grief carries its own considerations, reshaping your family’s readiness to welcome a new member. So gauge the collective emotional state in your home, and make sure that everyone sees a new pet as a new chapter rather than an inadequate replacement. 

Even existing pets may be navigating a sense of loss that could reasonably be described as grief. Their acceptance of a new companion hinges on careful, gradual introductions, with a keen eye on their stress signals.

When you’re preparing your home for a new dog amidst grief, it can be helpful to create distinct spaces and routines that honor the memory of the pet who’s passed while also providing your new addition with their own place in the family. This can mean setting up a special area in your home for the new dog with their own bed and toys, separate from where your previous pet spent their time, while perhaps dedicating a specific spot or keepsake to remember the pet who has passed.

This period of transition is an opportunity for reflection and adjustment, as each member of the household—human and animal alike—adapts to the evolving dynamics. In the end, it's a step towards healing. 

When it might be too soon?

For some pet parents, it may ALWAYS be too soon. 

If your dog’s loss still feels raw and your emotions are still volatile, it may be too soon. Getting a new dog while you’re still grieving can be unfair to both you and your would-be pet, preventing you from forming a healthy bond. It’s a bad idea to take in a new pup without the emotional bandwidth to look after them properly. And the last thing you want is to feel irritable toward a new dog for the sin of being too unlike your old one. 

Give yourself time to come to terms with your loss.

Beyond emotional readiness, think over any practical considerations. Just because you used to have a dog doesn’t mean you’re equipped to get a new one immediately. You may need to buy new toys, supplies, and over-the-counter preventative meds. You’ll definitely need new food. If you’re getting a puppy, you’ll need items—like pee pads—that may not have been absent from your home for years.

Also, choosing the RIGHT dog is absolutely critical. A small lapdog will likely require less space, exercise, and mental stimulation than a high-energy breed. Just because you were a successful French Bulldog parent doesn’t mean you’re prepared to take in a Border Collie!

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not ready yet. Recognizing when it’s too soon to get a new dog is a sign of maturity and responsibility. It's okay to take your time and wait until you're completely prepared to open your heart and home to a new companion. 

Moving forward with love and care

Welcoming a new dog after losing a beloved pet isn’t a simple journey. It’s marked by reflection, healing, and feelings of love—sometimes painful ones. It's all about finding the right time and the right companion to share your life with, while holding onto the cherished memories of the pet who left paw prints on your heart.

When you do find yourself ready, embrace this next chapter with an open heart; you're not replacing your previous pet, but honoring their memory by making room for more canine love. (I’m not ready yet, myself. I suspect that my two sons, now too young to voice an insatiable need for four paws and a tail, will one day force my hand.)

When you're ready to take this step, make sure you’re equipped with the knowledge and resources to provide the best care for your new furry friend. Understand their health needs, and make sure they’re protected with the right dog insurance. Embracing these responsibilities will help your new companion thrive, just as your old one did.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.