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Behavior Changes in Aging Dogs

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Destructive Behavior

Just as with other behavior problems of senior dogs, the underlying cause of destructive behavior needs to be determined in order to provide effective treatment. Some destructive behaviors reported in senior dogs are pica (ingesting inedible objects); licking, sucking or chewing body parts, household objects or family members; and scratching and digging. Each of these may have a different cause, so a thorough medical evaluation combined with a behavioral history is necessary to determine a cause or causes for your dog’s behavior. For example, cognitive dysfunction might be considered in dogs with licking, chewing or pica. Treatment of underlying medical problems and cognitive dysfunction may resolve some problems but not others. If your dog is suffering from anxiety, phobia or fear of particular things (people, situations, objects, thunder, etc.), these issues need to be treated. Please see Fears and Phobias below for more information. Modifying your home and your dog’s environment can be helpful as well. Prevent access to sites where your dog’s destructiveness has occurred or might occur, and provide him with new, interesting toys to chew (or bones, rawhides, bully sticks, food-stuffed KONGs, etc.).

Fears and Phobias

Sensory decline, cognitive dysfunction and anxiety can all contribute to fears and phobias. The first step in treatment is to control underlying medical problems and cognitive dysfunction. Older dogs can suffer from fears and phobias of noise and thunderstorms and, less commonly, of going outdoors, entering certain rooms or walking on certain types of surfaces. Dog guardians’ own understandably frustrated reaction to their dogs’ behavior can also aggravate the problem-especially punishment is used. Try keeping your dog away from whatever triggers his fears or phobia, or masking the noise with background music. With the guidance of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), you can also use behavioral treatment to change your dog’s emotional response to things that frighten or upset him and, as a result, change his behavior. (Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a CAAB or ACAAB in your area.) See your veterinarian about possible drug or pheromone therapy for panic and anxiety, which can also help ease your dog’s fears and anxiety.

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