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Common Behavioral Problems in Older Dogs

Older dogs, like older people, may start exhibiting some behavioral trends that are undesirable to their owners and neighbors.

If your dog is over the age of 5, you should start to look for any signs that might indicate they are losing some of their cognitive abilities. If you see any signs, call your veterinarian. Veterinarians run additional tests in dogs to ensure they aren’t dealing with other health issues that can cause similar functional problems.

Keep in mind that your older dog may not be able to control their behavior as well as they once did. This is due to the changes that they are experiencing.

The first signs of aging are typically graying fur and slower movements, but it is important for pet owners to realize our fur babies are changing on the inside. Similar to humans, our pooches are more likely to change and develop certain diseases as they age.

When your dog has a behavior you consider problematic, first try to find out why he’s doing what he’s doing. Does it happen only in one situation or place, or only at one time of day?

What life experiences could be influencing his behavior? Is this simply a normal canine behavior that you consider a problem? If your dog’s behavior changes suddenly, it’s always a good idea to check in with your veterinarian, since some medical problems can cause changes in behavior or attitude.

Here are the main ways behavioral problems manifests in senior dogs;

1. Disorientation 

Older dogs exhibit this in forms such as getting lost in familiar areas such as the home or yard.
Social interactions might be altered between the pet and owner or pet and other pets – some pets may appear to be more clingy while others might be disinterested or even irritable when petted or approached.

2. Too much Night Time Activity

Sensory changes, such as eyesight or hearing loss, can affect your dog’s depth of sleep. His sleep-wake cycles may be affected by cognitive dysfunction or other types of central nervous system disorders. Ask your dog’s veterinarian to do a complete examination to look for medical problems that could cause restlessness, discomfort or an increased need to eliminate.

3. House Soiling

Your well-housebroken pet is suddenly urinating or defecating in the house and can’t remember how to ask to go out.

Older pets often lose the ability to control their bladders or bowels which results in accidents around the house. Some dogs will even defecate or urinate while sleeping. It might be something as simple as a treatable urinary tract infection or a treatable condition regulated with prescriptions.

4. Aggression

Surprisingly, aggression in dogs can also increase with age. This aggression can be due to a medical condition, in which case the dog might be in physical pain or discomfort. If your dog does not have a medical issue, the hostility is likely due to a loss of hearing or vision.

If your dog is being aggressive towards family members or close friends, it may be due to changes in the family dynamics. A dog can also get overwhelmed when there are many people around at once. Lastly, an older dog may become aggressive if a new pet enters the household. The older dog may feel protective over the family or become anxious with another animal in the house.

5. Loss of Senses

A dog’s sense of smell, eyesight and hearing all begin to degrade as he gets older. Some dogs may eventually become blind or deaf – especially if the underlying cause isn’t treated.

The first signs of hearing or sight loss are often subtle. Your dog may be more easily startled (or even become aggressive) when someone approaches him, as he might not be aware of the person. He may also become less responsive to commands. Both of these signs are often mistaken for “bad behavior,” which can lead to punishment and even greater stress for the dog.

6. Anxiety

Oftentimes as dogs age, they become more anxious in general. Physically, this may show up as panting, licking, shaking, or pacing. Behaviorally, an anxious older dog might also urinate, excessively lick/bite themselves, or even become aggressive. They may have changes in appetite or sleep (either sleeping more or less) or become clingy, restless, or lethargic.


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