Behaviourist's Corner

Why Does Dog Behaviour Change?


What does it mean when your dog starts acting a bit out of character? Behaviourist Inga MacKellar highlights three common behaviour and personality changes that may occur as our canine companions age.

‘Doggie years’ are much shorter than human years. Although it varies depending on breed and size, one dog year is roughly two of our human months, so a seven-year-old dog is about 42 years old in human years! You will know how your dog behaves ‘normally’, so do try to be aware of anything different – as dogs get older, changes in behaviour can occur. The first step if you suspect or notice any differences is always to consult your vet – it’s best to rule out any health concerns as soon as possible. Then you can use my guide below for advice on how to adapt routines and interactions to help your dog continue to have a happy and enjoyable life.

Can’t be bothered?

If your dog appears to be reluctant to play or go for walks, it may be a sign of mobility problems, such as arthritis. If this is the case, then you need to rethink his exercise regime. Go for short walks rather than long treks. Parks are ideal – you can both sit and relax, and he 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. Swimming can also be an excellent way to help with fitness for dogs that find walking uncomfortable. You can find out more ways to help your older canine companion exercise here.

What did you say?

If your normally obedient dog starts to respond less to commands, it may be that he is developing some hearing loss. Teach your dog visual hand signals, rather than sticking to voice commands, which he may have difficulty hearing. Dogs that seem subdued or bump into things could also have sight problems. Avoid moving furniture around – which will confuse him – and place textured rugs around the house to help guide him away from furniture. Because the canine sense of smell is so incredible, dogs with hearing or sight difficulties can continue to enjoy life. Walks can be on a lead, and food activity toys and games are a great way of having fun together. Never startle your dog if he has a problem with hearing or sight though – always approach him calmly, perhaps with a small dog biscuit in your hand so he can smell your approach (if he can’t hear so well), or by saying his name (if he can’t see so well).

Up all night?

Dogs that wake, whine or walk about during the night could be anxious, or possibly suffering from dementia. However, it could also be that your dog is not getting enough stimulation during the day. Whatever his age, your dog needs to receive daily mental and physical stimulation. If these routines are stopped then he may become restless at night. Ensure that you walk, play and interact with your dog on a daily basis. A little bit each day can make all the difference and help ensure a restful night’s sleep for you and your dog.

Find out more about your dog’s hearing.


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