Behavior Changes in Aging Dogs
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.
Loss of hearing, cognitive dysfunction, central nervous system disorders and medical conditions can all contribute to your dog’s excessive vocalization. He might whine or howl if he feels the urge to eliminate more, if he’s overeating and wants you to give him more food, or if he’s in pain. If your dog has become more fearful and anxious, he might begin vocalizing at things that scare or stress him, like noises or visitors. Showing your own frustration or punishing your dog for vocalizing can also increase his anxiety and aggravate the problem.
Once any underlying medical problem and cognitive dysfunction are treated, behavioral treatment involves identifying and modifying any of your own responses that might be reinforcing or aggravating your dog’s behavior. For some dogs, training them to be quiet on cue and rewarding quiet behavior is effective. For other dogs, nonshock bark-control collars, such as the citronella collar, may be needed. Drug therapy may also help if your dog’s vocalizations are motivated by anxiety. Please see our article, Howling, for more information on the various causes and treatments for excessive vocalizing.
Restlessness / Waking at Night
Dogs who sleep more during the day can become more restless and active at night. Some dogs start overreacting to things they once ignored, like the garage door opening or the newspaper being delivered. Keeping a record can help you identify what triggers your dog’s nighttime 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. Any medical problems should be treated first, and then, if necessary, you can gently retrain your dog to reestablish normal sleeping and waking hours. Try increasing his daytime and evening activity by giving him frequent walks, playing his favorite games, practicing obedience or tricks, and giving him food-puzzle toys and bones to chew. Please see our articles, Enriching Your Dog’s Life and Exercise for Dogs, for ideas for keeping your dog well exercised, both physically and mentally. You can also ask his veterinarian about combining your retraining with drugs to induce sleep or, alternatively, drugs to keep your dog more active during the day.