Behavior Changes in Your Aging Dog

In addition to the physical changes we all attribute to the aging process, you may see a number of behavioral differences in your dog as he gets on in years. While some changes may be natural, others might be related to a health condition that requires attention. Read on to see how you can identify and manage these developments, but when in doubt, always check with your vet.



If your dog seems to suddenly, and out of character, start growling, snapping, or biting, then he or she is showing signs of aggression. When dogs begin to age, they can experience a wide variety of painful inflictions and physical or mental changes that can lead to grumpiness and aggression. Some of the most common reasons behind a normally sweet dog becoming nippy and grouchy include:

  • Pains in the body (such as in the joints or muscles)

  • Painful skin (due to allergies, dryness, or dietary issues)

  • Painful dental, gum, or throat issues

  • Stomach or indigestion pains

  • Feeling fearful or startled due to loss of hearing, vision, or both

  • Mental or nervous system issues such as medication side effects or canine cognitive dysfunction (discussed in greater detail below).


Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) affects around 60 percent or more of dogs that are past the age of 10. If all other health or pain-causing issues have been ruled out by your dog’s vet, chances are high that he or she could have this disorder. Some of the primary symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction include the following:

  • Abnormal soiling in the house or sleeping areas

  • Aggression and loss of recognition of family members or other family pets

  • Confusion, disorientation, or inability to locate familiar objects (such as the house or food bowl)

  • Stiffness, weakness, restlessness, chronic circling or pacing

  • Increased barking, whining, or growling

  • Inability to sleep or restless and agitated while sleeping

  • Lethargy or decreased activity

  • Inability to pay attention or seems to stare off into space


Lack of Interest in Others

When dogs experience pain or another aging physical issue (such as blindness or deafness), they may appear less interested in humans and other pets or act depressed.


Too Much Interest in Others or Separation Anxiety

When sweet and gentle dogs who have been raised in loving homes for several years experience pain or discomfort, they usually seek comfort from their family members or become excessively clingy. Some dogs become so clingy in their old age that they may show symptoms of separation anxiety when left alone (such as destroying the home or urinating inside).


Making Bathroom Messes

Whether your aging dog has a cognitive disorder or a physical issue, making messes indoors becomes common as they become older. Your dog may become completely incontinent and urinate or defecate in the house, or make messes due to separation anxiety, as discussed above. Other reasons for inappropriate elimination might include the following:

  • Physical diseases

  • Physical pain that prevents him or her getting up and going outside

  • Canine cognitive disorder


15 Solutions For Behavioral Changes in Aging Dogs

  1. As always, seek a vet’s consultation before taking anyone else’s advice.

  2. Keep your regular schedule or create a more structured schedule so your dog will know what to expect.

  3. If your dog is losing hearing or sight, then try to maintain a loud, but calm voice around them.

  4. If your dog is losing hearing, teach him some commands via hand signals (like pointing down for “sit” or holding a flat hand palm down for “lay down”).

  5. Pet and snuggle your dog when they seem the most energetic and don’t smother him or her unless they seem interested.

  6. Give your dog a nice private place to rest quietly if he or she seems overwhelmed by other pets or family members.

  7. Give your dog medicine or supplements as prescribed to help with arthritis or joint pain.

  8. Take your dog for walks more frequently, but for shorter distances.

  9. Build or purchase steps that are designed to help aging dogs climb into bed or onto couches.

  10. Use softer brushes when grooming.

  11. Use gentle shampoos when bathing and bathe after every housebreaking accident.

  12. Include regular feeding, sleeping, grooming, and exercise sessions in your schedule

  13. Consider using an indoor litter pan or potty box for aging dogs that have trouble walking outside.

  14. Give your dog a diet that is nutritious and right for his or her own needs, according to your vet’s advice.

  15. Consider providing a soft, yet supportive, bed in each of the the rooms that your dog visits.

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