I love old dogs. I love their graying muzzles; I love peering into their souls. I love the way they look at you. I love their wisdom. I love earning the love and trust of a senior dog. I hope I have the privilege of caring for my Beck and Finney until they are very, very old. Finney will be 9 next month, and his muzzle and eyebrows are starting to gray. His graying adds an air of distinguished gentleman to him. If sweet Finney were to suddenly have a change toward aggressive behavior, I would take it very seriously and know that something was very wrong with him. The biting senior dog has reasons for being aggressive. If your senior dog becomes aggressive, it is your job is to figure out the cause and help him move past it.
Dog bites by senior dogs are often caused by three possible reasons—pain, less tolerance and confusion brought on by advanced age. Our senior dogs need our support and they are counting on us.
A Senior Dog Suffering Pain
Pain is usually at the top of the list of why senior dogs bite or act aggressive. If your senior dog suddenly becomes aggressive, take him to the veterinarian straight away to rule out or treat any medical issues.
Most likely, your veterinarian will want to do to a full senior profile screening and get a baseline of all functions. Ruling out or treating pain should always be a consideration when looking into possible causes of a senior dog biting.
Maybe your dog has bitten before, but the biting has gotten worse, harder. Maybe your dog has lived the life of saint and been the world’s most tolerant and patient dog on earth and this incident seems totally out of the blue. These are both clues that your dog could have something physically wrong. Quite often this is not something you can detect.
Dogs are stoic about pain. Your dog could have leg or hip or back issues that you would have no way of knowing about. Please don’t think you would “know” if your dog was hurting. Usually by the time we know the dogs have something wrong with them, things have progressed quite far. Any sudden change in behavior is always a call for action on your part.
Even the most patient of all dogs may snap one day, which is why it is never a good idea to allow children to climb on dogs, or have full unrestricted access to them. Sometimes our dog’s tolerance is just pulled to the snapping point, not unlike a rubber band. You can stretch and stretch it, but then, one day, there is no elasticity left.
A Senior Dog With Growing Intolerance
Your senior dog needs a soft place to lay and be safe. Even if you have the kind of dog who loves to be in the middle of everything, find a way to protect the middle from advances from well-meaning people and animals.
Your senior dog needs a safe place to retreat to. My dog Dina used to go downstairs when the kids were small and she wanted a nap, while my old Collie Skipper slept on the rug between the living room and the dining room. Wherever your senior dog decides to pick as his resting spot, support him so that he has a place to relax.
Teach children to leave the dog alone. Be vigilant in not letting children have access to the dog when there is no one there to supervise closely.
A Senior Dog Suffering Confusion
Some dogs, like some people, get confused in their later years. You may notice this sporadically, or you may start to see a steady decline. Hearing loss can also contribute to aggression. Your dog may not like surprises. The saying “let sleeping dogs lie” always applies, especially when your dog can’t hear you approaching and he is starting to get a bit rickety.
Most issues with a confused senior dog involve you managing and avoiding as opposed to totally solving. Keep the needs of your dog at the forefront. Sleeping arrangements, resting spots and schedules may need to be adjusted somewhat.
Some dogs have cognitive issues in their later years and can have bouts of increasing confusion. Keep in mind that, like people, dog behavior evolves over time. If your usually sweet dog is suddenly getting cranky with other dogs, please take the cues from your dog and stop putting him in situations he no longer enjoys. Leash the young dogs; rotate dogs in the house with dog gates, leashes, dog crates and closed doors. Step in front of your senior dog when young dogs approach so they know that access to your senior dog is restricted.
Maybe you need to keep exposure time shorter. Your dog may be OK for a few quick romps around the yard, but when the younger generation wants to keep zooming on, it may be best to take your older dog away.
Our Finn is starting to show stiffness after long walks in the deep snow. All we can do is balance a great quality of life with common sense and management of pain. He is not on any pain meds at this time, but I will not hesitate to dose him when the time calls for it.
If your dog has delivered a damaging bite, you must ask yourself some very serious questions. The main one being: Can I, without doubt, keep this from happening again? The sad reality is that a dog who has bitten hard will bite hard again. There is no retirement farm for dangerous senior dogs to live out their last days. You must offer the support to do right not only by your dog, but by the people in your life.
Nancy Freedman-Smith owns Gooddogz Training in Portland, Maine. She has over 20 years experience and specializes in dogs with aggression and reactivity but she much prefers to teach people to train their dogs to avoid any and all problems. She shares her home with her three kids ages 13, 17, and 22 and her most wonderful and handsome Smooth Collie Finney and her super brain surgeon smart rescue dog Beck. Nancy tells us her first words were doggie and horsey.
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