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Understanding Senior Dog Behavior

Dog behavior can change dramatically depending on their life stage. For example, puppies are going to have an abundance of playful energy, while senior dogs tend to prefer to relax and observe the world around them. We’ve created a list of vital indicators to look out for in your older dog. Know when it’s time to seek veterinary attention or to change food-type and other daily care routines. 


Confusion or Disorientation:

In familiar places, even in your home, older dogs may seem lost or confused. The first few times this happens, they may appear agitated. Once this experience becomes a common occurrence, they eventually learn to calm down.

Changes In Responsiveness:

Dogs may not appear to know family members or may fail to respond to orders.

Vocalizations, Restlessness, New Sensitivities:

Many senior dogs can start performing repetitive behaviors or vocalizations, such as hurling or whipping. They may also become more anxious or experience anxiety about separation, even though they’ve never exhibited this behavior in the past. Older dogs may also become more prone to loud noises like thunder or other extreme weather. 

Changes In Sleep Cycle:

Most senior dogs experience changes in their sleep cycle, causing them to sleep in the daytime and to stay awake at night.

Decline In Bathroom Training:

Many dogs in their later years can forget their home training. They may start going to the bathroom inside the house on a regular basis or simply forget to go outside.

Be proactive about monitoring your older dog’s behavior to ensure they’re comfortable throughout all life stages.


If your dog is exhibiting any of the behavior changes listed above, it may be time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Your vet can check to see if your dog has a treatable condition, or they may find that the behavior is a symptom of cognitive dysfunction (suggesting natural cognitive decline). 


Your vet can prescribe drugs such as selegiline hydrochloride to treat cognitive dysfunction syndrome and relieve symptoms, or may even prescribe an anti-anxiety medication if separation anxiety is diagnosed. Often, special food for senior dogs may help with joint problems or other growing problems of aging. 


If certain behaviors are causing major issues in your household, you may want to meet with an animal behaviorist. The behaviorist can assist with re-training, habitat learning, developing hard-hearing hand signals for animals, and seeking other approaches to problem behaviors. 

Upgrades In Care At Home:

Keep in mind that your dog is getting older and can be uncomfortable. Try to find ways to make them more relaxed, like a heated dog bed that can soothe their joints and make night sleep easier. Focus on therapies with your doctor, stay patient, and find new ways to keep your dog mentally and physically fit. The more you know about your dog’s health, the more informed and efficient you can be in caring for them in their later life stage. Encourage your elderly dog to settle into a safe, happy, and relaxed senior lifestyle with a little time and attention. 


SOURCE: Dr. Winnie l Old Dog Behavior 101 I September 2018



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