Behavior In Old Dogs
What kinds of things do older dogs do that younger ones don't? How should you take care of these behavioral changes?
As your dog becomes older, he may develop problems with his behavior as well as his physical abilities. It is helpful to know what these are, what causes them and what you can do about them if and when they occur.
"My dog, who has always been well house trained, is suddenly having a lot of accidents."
Your dog could be suffering from something as simple as separation anxiety, if he is frequently home alone to something more serious such as health problem. With separation anxiety, your pet simply misses you so much when you're gone that he gets angry and urinates or defecates in the house as a sort of revenge for your leaving. Sometimes, however, there are physical reasons which make it difficult for your dog to alert you to his bathroom needs. Some health problems that a vet might diagnose in this case are Cushing's disease, diabetes, colitis, bladder stones, an inflamed prostate or an infection. All of these things can make it impossible for your dog to wait until he is let outside. If his problem is frequent and doesn't seem to be getting better, it's best to have him checked out by your veterinarian.
"My older dog has suddenly become hostile and belligerent."
Dogs, especially older ones, can be mean when something threatening has entered their environment. Did you recently get a new puppy or another pet? Did you just have a baby? Adding a member to a household can cause a lot of stress to a pet as the new person or animal challenges the old pet's established place in the family. Sometimes an older dog's failing health can cause aggression, as well. If a dog has arthritis, he isn't as able to move himself away from irritating things like young children or other pets. He may growl at them to make them go away rather than have to get up and move, which is very painful. If your dog is losing his vision, he might not recognize you as you approach him. He might not know you from a stranger. Using your voice to help him recognize you is helpful. Of course, hearing loss can also cause aggression in your dog. He can't hear people or other animals approaching him, and when they show up suddenly, it frightens him and he responds accordingly.
"What can I do about my dog's problems?"
First, if you think your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety there are measures you can take to ease his troubles. When you leave the house, try not to let your dog see you. He will be much less upset if he doesn't even know you're gone. If you can't do this, you can help calm him down before you leave by spending some time sitting with him, petting him gently. If you leave in a calm rather than hurried or frantic way, it might help your dog feel more comfortable and therefore less destructive while you're gone.
"If my dog has more serious problems, what kinds of treatment are available?"
If you think your pet's problems are more serious than this, it is best to take him to the vet. Describe the problems in as much detail as you can. This will help the veterinarian make a proper diagnosis. There are medications, surgeries and behavioral strategies that can cure or, at least, ease the symptoms of whatever ailment your dog is suffering from.