We can all become a bit grouchy in old age, dogs included. So what happens if your pet becomes less accepting of other dogs or people – and how can you tackle this tricky issue?
Dogs can become more bad-tempered for a variety of reasons. It’s not uncommon for older dogs to growl or snap at a puppy, for example, while irritability can be a sign of underlying health and wellbeing issues in your pet. Canine grouchiness can have serious consequences, though, so do take it seriously, and seek advice from a vet or behaviourist if you’re concerned that your pet is becoming more bad-tempered than they used to be.
Is your older dog intolerant of a new puppy?
Introducing a new pup to the household can cause a bit of friction. Just as you taught your dog boundaries and rules when they were growing up, a senior dog will assert their ‘parent’ authority in order to socialise their juniors and teach them how to behave around other dogs.
A senior dog with lower energy levels can quickly tire of a young pup’s incessant need for play and attention. The older dog may also view a new kid on the block as a bit of a threat to their status. If the puppy play is excessive, the older dog may growl or snap at the puppy, to indicate ‘enough!’
A brief grumpy reaction can be considered normal. However, if it continues longer than a couple of seconds, it’s time for the ultimate parent – that’s you – to step in, separate the dogs, and give them time out from each other, whether in their beds, another room or a crate.
Persistent irritability needs to be tackled, to avoid creating fear and aggression in the pup. Try socialising the youngster by arranging meet-ups with other local dogs, which will give your senior pooch some welcome puppy-free time. If the negative dynamic doesn’t improve, however, think about consulting a behaviourist or trainer for help.
Why is your dog grumpy all of a sudden?
If a previously laid-back pooch is becoming more irritable, don’t just ignore this – it could be a sign of pain from a hidden illness, injury or age-related medical condition. For example, the majority of senior dogs experience some degenerative arthritis as the cartilage between their joints wears away, and the accompanying stiffness and pain can make a dog acutely sensitive and bad-tempered. Simply being touched where it hurts can spark an angry reaction. Touching can also inadvertently cause the dog to hurt itself – for example, they might turn its head in response, cricking a sore neck.
If you suspect that pain could be causing your dog to react badly, do get them checked over by your vet. In the case of arthritis, they’ll be able to advise on treatments such as anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers. If your ageing dog is also overweight, they’ll probably advise you to address this, to relieve excessive pressure on their long-suffering joints.
Failing hearing and eyesight may also contribute to an older dog’s tetchy demeanour. A wise strategy is to eliminate the element of surprise from their routine. For a deaf dog, try making more use of hand signals – a good learning exercise for your senior dog. If poor eyesight is the issue, talk to your dog more and give them verbal directions: ‘step down/up’ when crossing a road, for instance.
Could lifestyle changes be causing your dog to act grumpy?
Disruptions to the familiar can sometimes cause upset and volatility, particularly in senior dogs. A household member moving out or passing away; a baby arriving; building work or changed layouts in the home, and house moves could all be triggers. Lack of attention or a fall-off in exercise can also plunge a dog into anxiety, depression – and sometimes, irritable behaviour.
Think about what’s happening generally in the house: can the grumpiness be traced back to some shift that’s occurred, and could you improve the situation? Help reduce your dog’s stress by giving them some extra consideration and a quiet, safe space in which to adjust to new circumstances.
Mental changes that can cause aggression in dogs
Doggy dementia or canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is an umbrella term for several different cognitive behaviours that can affect an ageing dog’s memory, learning and comprehension. A range of symptoms can accompany doggy dementia, including confusion, lack of spatial awareness, low mood – and, in some cases, irritability. In this instance, neurological and hormonal changes can short-circuit a dog’s responses, causing them to display growling, snapping and biting behaviours. It’s deeply distressing for the dog, and equally heart-breaking for the owner to witness.
Wherever possible, it’s best to alleviate the symptoms with patience, compassion and understanding, and avoid over-stressing your dog. Keep a routine going, and make sure they can access food and water easily – and that these are always in the same place. Short walks and playing a few search games can help keep doggy minds active and flexible.
As with any behaviour change in older dogs, if you’re worried, it’s always a good idea to seek expert advice to support and care for your pooch.