Why Your Senior Dog Seems To Have Puppy Problems

It’s just a little frosting on the muzzle, “sugar sprinkles,” if you will. These endearments for the telltale signs of age on our dogs’ faces mask our denial of their march through time. Wasn’t it just yesterday we brought him home? When did he get so frail, so tired…so old? And why is he suddenly turning into a problem child?

As dogs get older, you won’t just see changes in appearance or stamina. You’ll also see changes in behaviour. Puppies chew inappropriate items, eliminate in your home, and struggle when you first start to clip their nails. As you train your pup, these issues go away—only to often return in your dog’s golden years. This is normal, although it can be confusing for unsuspecting pet parents who thought these problems were long in the past. Ready for some déjà vu? Here are some issues you may find coming back to bite you as your best canine friend becomes a senior.


Senior yellow Labrador with behavioural problemsPerhaps your dog used to be a little nervous during thunderstorms, but now a storm sends him into a full-blown panic. Or maybe he used to hate thunder, but now also freaks out at fireworks, motorcycles, and other loud noises. Even if it’s been years since your dog acted anxious or frightened, it’s not uncommon for fears to return, increase or even develop as he ages.

Or perhaps it’s your dog’s reaction to you leaving. Did he cry as a puppy when you left for work? If you treated the issue, he likely improved and was perfectly happy to be a latchkey dog while you went out. Your senior dog, however, may now start whining the second you pick up your keys to head out the door.

Why is this happening? As a dog ages, his hearing and other senses diminish. This can cause stress for your dog. As his long-time companion, you are his comfort. So when you leave, it can increase his stress, which can manifest in separation distress or anxiety. He may whine more, be clingy, and have a general worried expression. You may see stress yawns or lip licking. Increased anxiety and phobias are not uncommon in older dogs. If you suspect your dog is overly stressed, talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication – it may take several different trials before you find one that works best for your dog. Other things you can do to ease his anxiety include keeping to his routine as much as possible, leaving the TV or radio on when you have to leave him alone, and keeping his mind engaged by teaching him new things.

Housetraining Accidents

Senior dog with anxiety spending time with ownerRemember cleaning up after your puppy? All those paper towels! Well, it’s time to stock up on them again, because your golden girl may experience housetraining accidents. As a dog ages, she may not be able to hold her bladder as long as she could in her prime years. Physical aging aside, dogs also have accidents in your home due to stress. It’s not spite! Your old girl isn’t mad you went to that party and came home late. She was stressed when you didn’t follow your regular routine, and so she peed. If she peed on your clothes or bed, again it wasn’t because she was angry at you. She went to a source of your scent for comfort, was stressed, and peed. If your older dog is peeing inappropriately, your first stop should be your veterinarian to rule out a physical problem. If she’s healthy, then confine her just as if she was a puppy when you can’t supervise her. Go back to your housetraining lessons and teach her again where you want her to eliminate. Also remember that older dogs, like older people, need more bathroom breaks and try to adjust your schedule accordingly.

Destructive Behaviour

senior dog destroying ballYour puppy was a chewing machine, going through your personal belongings as if on some sort of canine mission. He lost his puppy teeth, those back molars came in, and he grew up and less interested in chomping through your household. Until the day he decided to start up again as a senior.

Again, destructive behaviour is not generated from spite. In your senior dog especially, it’s likely due to anxiety. Chewing helps your dog relieve stress. Give your dog new toys to chew on, and rotate them frequently to keep their appeal fresh. Be sure and praise him when he chews on the toy instead of your shoe!

Grooming Struggles

small senior dog doesn't like taking a bathWho was more nervous the first time you cut your puppy’s nails, you or your pup? By now, grooming your dog is probably old hat, but you may notice your senior is less tolerant of handling than he used to be. Instead of holding still for a nail trim, he may pull his paw back. Instead of relaxing while you brush him, he may be irritable and even snap.

As dogs age, they grow more physically sensitive. Aching bones and arthritis may make it painful for your dog when you brush him. Be extra gentle with your older dog while grooming. Use treats to make the experience a positive one, just as you did when he was just learning how to enjoy his spa treatments.

There is a beautiful quote by Sidney Jean Seward, “Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog.” Your senior dog may be reliving some problem behaviours as he ages, but it’s a small price to pay for every extra day you have together.

Teoti Anderson, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, is a professional dog trainer and author of The Dog Behavior Problem Solver, Ultimate Guide to Dog Training, Puppy Care and Training, and more. She hosts the Get Pawsitive Results radio show on Pet Life Radio and educates pet parents and other trainers on canine behaviour through popular webinars and workshops.

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