Why does dogs’ behaviour change as they age?

As our dogs get older, they might start acting a bit out of character. Here, we look at some age-related personality changes in dogs, from your dog not wanting to walk any more to waking up at night.

As our dogs age, it’s not unusual to see changes in their behaviour and habits. You know how your dog behaves ‘normally’, so try to keep an eye on any differences. A dog acting strange in later life may have a physical condition that is affecting their behaviour; or they may be showing signs of dog dementia.

The first step if you’re worried about dog personality changes is to consult your vet, so they can investigate any health concerns as soon as possible. But the good news is, it’s often possible to adapt your older dog’s routine to ensure they continue to enjoy their golden years. Here, we look at some common personality changes in dogs as they age:

Download our Senior Dog Age Differences infographic here.

My dog doesn’t want to walk

If your old dog doesn’t want to walk or play with you as much as they used to, it could simply be that they have less energy. However, a lack of walking could also be a sign of pain, stiffness or health conditions such as arthritis. This is common in older dogs, but be sure to get them checked out by your vet, and to spend plenty of time with them as they slow down. It may also be a good time to rethink their exercise regime.

What to do:

  • Go for short strolls rather than long treks. Parks are ideal – you can both sit and relax, and your dog will still be able to socialise with other dogs.
  • Try new, short routes so that your dog has fresh smells and different things to experience, or try less demanding indoor games to keep them mentally stimulated.
  • Swimming can also be an excellent activity for dogs that find walking uncomfortable.
  • For more advice and activity ideas, see our expert guide to exercising older dogs.

My dog is bumping into things

If an older dog keeps bumping into things, or seems generally subdued and reluctant to explore new places, this could again be down to mobility problems – or they could be losing their sight. Talk to your vet, who will be able to investigate any specific eye problems and advise on how best to care for a dog with sight loss. Thankfully, because the canine sense of smell is so incredible, dogs with sight difficulties can continue to enjoy life.

What to do:

  • Avoid moving furniture around – which will confuse a dog with sight loss – and place textured rugs around the house to help them navigate.
  • Walk them on their lead, if they still seem to enjoy it, and provide scent-led games and puzzle feeders.
  • Never startle a dog with vision problems. Approach them calmly, saying their name, to alert them to your presence.

My dog is ignoring me

If your normally obedient dog stops responding to commands, it’s possible that they’re losing their hearing with age. Again, your vet will be able to help diagnose hearing loss in your dog, and rule out any short-term problems such as ear infections.

What to do:

  • Avoid startling a dog with hearing loss by ‘sneaking up’ on them – try to step into their field of vision as soon as possible. You might like to hold a dog biscuit while approaching them, to provide a scent cue.
  • Consider teaching your dog visual hand signals instead of voice commands, and keeping them on the lead during walks.
  • For more tips on adjusting to canine hearing loss, read our guide to deafness in dogs.

My dog seems confused

If your old dog seems lost and confused in later life, or is otherwise acting out of character, it could be a sign of dog dementia, also known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Your vet will be able to help diagnose this common condition in older dogs. While there’s no cure for CDS, a little extra care and attention can help maintain your dog’s quality of life.

What to do:

  • Never tell your dog off for confused and inappropriate behaviour, such as peeing in the wrong place (see below) – this will only increase their stress and confusion.
  • Instead, you should keep their everyday environment as consistent and comfortable as possible.
  • See our guide to CDS in dogs for more tips on spotting and managing the condition.

My old dog keeps waking up at night

There are many reasons for older dogs to wake, whine or walk about during the night, including confusion and anxiety due to CDS, health conditions such as incontinence, or other causes of stress or discomfort.

What to do:

  • Observe your dog’s night-time habits, and talk to your vet if you’re concerned.
  • If your older dog is whining, anxious or otherwise restless at night, read our tips for calming night-time behaviour.
  • It could be that your dog is not getting enough mental and physical stimulation during the day. Ensure that you exercise, play and interact with your dog on a daily basis, to help ensure a restful night’s sleep for both of you!

Read more about behaviour changes in senior dogs – and don’t miss our top tips for taking older dogs to the vet.

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