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Understanding an Older Dog’s Change in Behavior

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Dear Inquisitive Canine,

My dog is is 12 years old and we’ve been best friends since she was a puppy. In the last six months or so, Violet has been acting very strange. She used to love snuggling together while watching a DVD, but now she growls at me if I pet her. We used to love ruff-housing and wrestling. Recently, Violet bit me quite hard and scared me.

As dogs age, it's natural for behavior to change. They slow down, and their senses aren't as sharp. A sharp, sudden change in behavior could indicate a medical issue. Photo by Elizabeth Tuz.
As dogs age, it’s natural for behavior to change. They slow down, and their senses aren’t as keen. A sharp, sudden change in behavior could indicate a medical issue. Photo by Elizabeth Tuz.

Also, it seems she doesn’t listen to me any longer. Doesn’t come when called; won’t follow commands.

It’s not only the bites that have hurt me. My feelings are very hurt. I’m losing my best friend and I don’t know what to do.

-Carole, aka, Violet’s Bestie

Dear Carole,

Thank you for reaching out and connecting with us. We can only imagine how traumatic this situation is for you and your family — including Violet. We know you are in a lot of pain, and I’m sorry Violet has hurt you.

Our first response is to suggest having Violet evaluated by her veterinarian. Sudden changes in behavior in any animal can be cause for concern. Her age, not wanting to play like she used to, and other indicators may point to a medical condition. If it turns out Violet is in perfect health, then behavioral aspects can be addressed.

Meanwhile, if she is uncomfortable or what she once found motivating has changed, you’ll want to follow her lead and interact on her level. Continue your keen observation skills: watch her body language and how she responds and interacts with her environment. Maybe change playtime to more gentle games. How about teaching her some new tricks? She might enjoy learning to wave (paw raise) or hand-targeting (touch her nose to the palm of your hand). It’s important to keep her engaged in mental and physical activities.

Thanks again for writing. We’ll be thinking about you and Violet. And, please keep us posted. We love updates.

Joan and Poncho love making new friends. Post snapshots and videos of your favorite Inquisitive Canine on their Facebook page

4 Responses

  1. Great answer to a real issue. Ruling out any medical issues is the most important thing so that you can move on to training her to be back to her old self. Thanks for posting.

  2. Our dog is turning 8 this year, and there aren’t really any behavior changes, but when we went to the vet the other day, the vet called him an “elderly” dog because he was over 7. This got me thinking. Is 8 an old dog?

    1. Hi Jason – I totally feel for ya! The day our wonderful vet referred to Poncho as a “senior” we were dumbfounded! “Senior? Seriously? But he’s still running around like a whirling dervish.” The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that thanks to advanced medical care our domestic pets are living longer and longer. So, to answer your question I would say as with any living being, age is relative – it’s a number. With the right care and environment, your inquisitive canine with prove that in dog years 8 is the new 2. 😉

  3. This is such an issue with a lot of my clients. They don’t understand that dogs change as they get older – just like people do. They also rarely realize that medical issues can be at the root of (new) behavior issues!

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