Behavior changes can occur in our dogs as they get older. It's not unusual to think that a dog is just being stubborn, acting out or being 'bad'. As always, though, and especially with aging dogs, it's important to consider whether there is a medical reason behind senior dog behavior changes. Older pets deal with changes to both their bodies and their minds that can affect the way they act. Our pets can't speak with us - but they can often tell us through their behavior if there is something wrong.
You may notice that your dog is restless at night, awakens more often, or even sleeps during the day but stays awake most of the night. Pet owners with dogs who frequently wake them up overnight often struggle with the lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep. Changes in a dog's sleeping pattern can arise from:
If your dog is worried about being away from you, consider letting him sleep with you, or at least close by the bed where you can easily reach down and touch him if he needs reassurance. Or try leaving on a night-light or playing soft background music to mask out other noises during the night.
Let your dog out for a potty break immediately before bed... it may just be that you'll have to get used to that extra bathroom break during the night.
Many people are surprised when their rock-solid housetrained dog has an accident in the house. Senior dogs, though, may soil in the house for many reasons - and none of them have to do with the dog willfully being 'bad':
Sometimes simply beginning the housebreaking process all over again will help to remind or reinforce housetraining. However, it could just be that age-related conditions have caught up with your dog and he will need to go out more frequently.
Hearing and vision loss, pain, or cognitive dysfunction (dementia) are all reasons why dogs can become anxious as they get older. It's a terrible thing to watch a dog suffering from anxiety, as they don't seem to be able to settle down and relax.
Dogs suffering from anxiety can behave in ways that are atypical for them. This can include destructive behavior (chewing or destroying things around the house); irritableness and growling, even during normal interactions with their owners; fearfulness or aggression; or becoming 'clingy' and needing more attention or reassurance.Thundershirt (an 'anti-anxiety' wrap that's easy to put on/take off), a Dog Appeasing Pheromone spray or diffuser, or Bach's Rescue Remedy.
Make sure you check with your pet's veterinarian before trying any sort of supplement to ensure that it won't interact with your pet's current medications.
Anxiety isn't an easy thing to manage. Not everything will work for every dog. You don't know what works specifically for your dog until you try.
An increase in any type of vocalization can indicate a problem with your senior dog. Pain can cause groaning or whimpering when moving around, for example; while barking or whining might indicate anxiety, whether from dementia or otherwise.
Ask a veterinarian to assess your dog. If a medical reason is found to be behind the increased vocalizations, treating the condition may return to your dog is his usual level of 'chattiness'. Some conditions, like dementia, may not respond to medication and the increased vocalizations may become your dog's new 'normal'.
If no medical reason is found, you may be able to alter your dog's behavior and train him to be quiet upon command. Be consistent with what command you use when you want your dog to stop vocalizing, and offer lots of praise and positive reinforcement.
Senior dog behavior changes are often caused by a common set of factors: pain, decreased mobility, loss of sight or hearing, canine cognitive dysfunction, or illness. A thorough check-up by the veterinarian can help identify any issues your dog may be having, as well as figure out how to help him. Remember that aging dogs aren't engaging in 'difficult' behaviors out of malice; they're simply growing older. Kindness, patience, and understanding in their senior years is a small price to pay for our dogs' steady companionship, loyalty, laughter, and love.