It can be very tempting for well-meaning parents to try to shield their children from the truth by euthanising their old or unwell dog while the children are away or at school, then offering them an untrue explanation like the dog ran away, or went to live on a farm. But this could cause greater problems later when they realise the truth.
Chidren over the age of around 10 should be included just like adults - and even be given the option to be present at the euthanising. For children between 5 and 10, use clear words to help them understand what is happening to their dog, avoiding terms like 'put to sleep' to avoid the interpretation that their dog will one day wake up. Gently and clearly explain to them that their pet is going to the vet to die peacefully and that they need to say goodbye because their dog won't be coming back.
Children younger than 5 generally don't have a good understanding of death, so for toddlers it's also important to use clear words whenever they try to seek out their deceased pet.
For children of all ages, as well as for adults, it can be helpful to perform some kind of ceremony after the euthanasia, like planting a tree in the garden. Making a doggy scrapbook can be a great source of comfort.
To see how others have dealt with the loss of their pet, or to share your stories, you might like to visit our 'Loss of Companion' forum.