Have you noticed that your dog just isn't "feeling" commands some days? And on other days, they hide and want to be left alone? If so, your dog might be having mood swings.
While mood swings can be frustrating for pet parents, this phenomenon isn't uncommon. Research shows that dogs of all ages, shapes, and sizes experience mood swings from time to time. Mood swings happen for many reasons, and they look different ways depending on the stimulus and your dog's temperament. So how do you know your dog is having a mood swing? Let's discuss.
Signs your dog is experiencing a mood swing
Mood swings can manifest in a number of ways, from cowering in a corner to excited bouncing. The tell-tale sign of a mood swing is your dog going from one extreme state to another in a short period of time — for instance, going from playing to hiding under the bed.
For a shy dog, this might mean nipping at someone trying to approach while they rest. Even going from resting to jumping excitedly when you mention a walk is technically a mood swing, though usually a welcome one.
If you believe your dog is having a mood swing, take note of what's going on. Is it loud where they are? Is another canine "bugging" them? Write down these triggers to figure out a pattern of mood swings and how to prevent them in the future. Documentation can also help if you feel the need to bring it up to the veterinarian.
Some behavioral signs that your dog may be experiencing mood swings include:
- Head turning
- Tense jaw
- Averting eyes
- Ears back
- Nose wrinkled
- Whale eye
Other signs your dog might exhibit:
- Nipping at the air
The history behind dog mood swings
It's believed dogs were domesticated between 14,000 and 30,000 years ago. In that time, man's best friend has figured out copious ways to communicate their emotions and needs. Over thousands of years of coexisting with us, dogs have developed an uncanny ability to understand our emotional cues and vice versa.
Canines are particularly adept at recognizing when humans are sad. A recent study found that dogs are more likely to respond to humans who are crying than those who are laughing. Studies also show that dogs mimic human emotions. Sometimes this mimicry translates into a change in mood or mood swing, if you will.
Many movies portray canine mood swings. The 1957 film"Old Yeller" is a classic example. Throughout the whole movie, Old Yeller was a faithful companion until a rabid animal bit him. In the end, rabies caused Old Yeller to have growling and nipping fit, and since rabies is incurable, they had to put him down.
Most cinematic portrayals of canine mood swings show dogs becoming aggressive, but mood swings aren't as dramatic in real life. Pups are much more likely to have a downward swing into a depressive state than into an aggressive one.
The science behind dog mood swings
There are many reasons why a dog may have a mood swing. Here are the most common according to experts:
- They're experiencing adolescent mood swings. Every parent of teens is familiar with hormonal mood swings, but did you know that puberty can throw off your pup’s mood and listening skills too? When those hormones hit, you might find your good listener turn stubborn. Behavioral studies of canines have found that dogs are more temperamental during puberty and far less likely to obey orders.
- They’re hurting. Pain is a primary contributor to mood swings in dogs. If you pick up a dog that’s in severe pain, they may even snap in fear of being hurt worse. Don’t take this personally, especially if your dog has never bitten before. If this happens, take Fido to the vet immediately to find the underlying issue. Dogs mask pain well, and there may be something seriously wrong.
- They’re scared. Fear is a huge factor in behavior for both humans and canines. Loud noises and unfamiliar faces may send a typically social pup running. Don’t push your fearful fur-baby to socialize or cuddle when they feel scared. Reassure them with a soft, gentle tone and let them be.
- They’re exhibiting maternal instincts. Did your dog recently have puppies? If so, that might be the cause of their mood swings. Mothers want to protect their babies at all costs and usually want to be left alone when with their young. Mother dogs may even growl or nip at unwanted visitors infringing on time with their babies.
- They’re food aggressive. Food aggression or resource guarding is a top reason dogs might have a mood swing. Often, food aggression comes from a place of fear and anxiety. If you have a rescue, this behavior could stem from past neglect or being around other food-aggressive dogs. Most dogs with food aggression are happy-go-lucky until someone nears their food bowl. Food aggressive mood swings may manifest as snarling, growling, or nipping.
- They’re mirroring your mood. Dogs feed off our emotions and often reflect them back to us. You may have noticed that when you’re excited or speak in a happy tone, your pup might jump around happily. The same goes for when we feel sad. If you’re down, your woofer might seem off too.
Can you train your dog to snap out of a mood swing?
Unfortunately, severe cases of mood swings can lead people to rehoming or even euthanasia. Thankfully, though, training can help minimize these behaviors. Socialization and professional behavioral therapy can temper issues like food aggression and reactivity. Exposure therapy can sometimes help with fearfulness to specific triggers like people and places.
If you notice your dog is sad, try petting them and offering treats. Even a simple game of fetch or a short walk around the block can boost their spirits.
If your dog is fearful or hiding, don't force them to interact. Comfort them with some pets and a soft, reassuring voice. Offering treats might be tempting, but it's unlikely that a scared dog will take them. Just let them know you're there and that it's safe.
Experts recommend that you don't punish your dogs for their mood fluctuations and stubbornness since this can exacerbate the issue. Instead, reward good behavior and obedience with treats and lots of praise. A clicker is handy for this since it marks the desirable behavior faster than you can verbally.
How to react to a dog's mood swings
If your dog appears fearful, reassure them in a calm voice.
If your dog is showing signs of aggression, leave them alone and seek professional help.
If your dog is hiding, give them space but let them know you're there.
If your dog has recently delivered puppies, leave them with their young.
Never punish your dog for mood swings of any kind — this can take matters from bad to worse.
If your pup appears to be in pain, take them to a vet immediately.