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Behavior Changes in Aging Dogs

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Specific Geriatric Behavior Problems and Their Behavioral Treatment continued...

The most important factor in diagnosing these behaviors as separation anxiety is that they occur only during your absence. If these behaviors occur while you or your family members are home, other issues may be causing them instead. For example, if your dog soils in the house both when you're gone and when you're home, you probably have a house training problem. The same is true of destructiveness. If destructive chewing happens when you're home, it's a training issue, not separation anxiety.

A distinct feature of geriatric (late-onset) separation anxiety is that it can manifest as nighttime anxiety, almost as if your dog views your sleeping as a form of separation. Your dog may keep you awake by pacing, panting and pawing at you, and demanding attention. This type of separation anxiety may indicate undiagnosed disease, and it can be relieved by treating the disease or, at minimum, relieving your dog’s pain or discomfort. A thorough examination by your dog’s veterinarian is crucial to determine whether there’s a medical basis for your dog’s anxiety.

Treatment for separation anxiety involves controlling any underlying medical problems and using a behavioral treatment called desensitization and counterconditioning (DSCC). Please see our article, Desensitization and Counterconditioning, for more information about the effective use of these treatments. Identifying and changing any of your own responses that might be aggravating your dog’s behavior is also helpful. In conjunction with behavioral treatment, pheromones and drugs can be used to reduce anxiety and improve your dog’s cognitive function. Please see our article, Separation Anxiety, for more detailed information on this disorder and its treatment.   

Excessive Vocalization

Your senior dog’s vocalizing can become a problem if he does it too often or at inappropriate times, like when you’re sleeping. Anxious vocalizing is usually a plaintive howl or excessive whining. If your dog does it only when you’re gone, it could indicate separation anxiety. If he does it when you’re home, then you’ll need the help of a behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist to determine what’s causing your dog to vocalize so much.

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