Senior dogs typically continue to have the same temperament that they have exhibited when they were younger. Highly active, very human-centered puppies will mature into very active, human-centered senior dogs, although the level of activity will gradually decrease as the dog ages. Owners need to understand that a breed that is known for high energy will not become a very laid back adult or senior dog, nor will a very sedate type of puppy suddenly develop high energy levels and want to go jogging with the owner every day as he or she matures. A healthy senior dog will continue to have the same typical behaviors as he or she has always exhibited and any changes in temperament should be taken very seriously.
The biggest and most unrecognized issue in changes in senior dog temperament is an underlying health problem. Many older dogs that begin to show signs of irritability and snappish behavior are just seen as "getting old and cranky" when in fact they are in pain. Often these types of sensitivities are due to small tumors under the skin, hot spots on the body or even more serious health issues such as arthritis or other joint and muscle conditions. In most cases where pain is the cause of the irritability the owners will notice the dog may whine or favor one leg or the front or back legs when he or she tries to sit, stand or move around after being sedate for a short period of time. In addition going up and down stairs may be problematic for the senior dog that is experiencing this type of pain.
Arthritis, hip dysplasia, elbow and kneecap dislocation and other joint malformations become much more likely to be problematic as the dog ages. This is because the normal wear on tear on the malformed or injured joint eventually results in pain as the joint degenerates and the bone on bone contact become more predominant. With bone on bone contact in joints the nerves are damaged, resulting in pain and irritation and decreased movement throughout the joint. Excessive weight gain, lack of exercise and increased time spend sleeping all contributes to the worsening of the situation.
Another treatable health condition that can often affect older dog's temperament is the onset of diabetes. Senior dogs with diabetes will be much more commonly females, almost twice as many, however males can also develop the condition. One of the most commonly overlooked factors is the sudden lethargic behavior that the dog will develop. Dogs between 7 and 9 years old that suddenly go from active, energetic dogs to sleepy, disinterested dogs that may also lose weight suddenly, drink more water and need more trips outside to urinate are likely to have diabetes or another metabolic condition. Early diagnosis prevents long term damage to the kidneys plus decreases the likelihood of other related health conditions such as vision impairment and even death from diabetes.
As a responsible owner it is important to take your older dog into the vet if you do notice any changes in personality or temperament. Often these conditions can be managed and the senior dog can continue to live a normal, pain free life, returning to his or her happy go lucky nature.
An older dog needs to continue to be exposed to new people, places and animals to enhance their socialization. Often owners spend a lot of time socializing puppies through obedience classes, outings and walks, but they neglect this component of training with an older dog. Routine interactions with other dogs, animals and people not only helps keep your older dog mentally stimulated, but it helps with maintaining and even increasing exercise and movement.
One of the biggest challenges that an older or senior dog faces is having a new puppy brought into the household. Many senior dogs do very well with puppies, plus it will help in keeping older dogs active, provided they are well socialized and a fairly active breed. Owners, however, have to make accommodations for the older dog, especially when the puppy reaches the rambunctious age and is testing his or her place within the hierarchy of the family.
If you do have an older dog and are introducing a puppy, be sure to do so slowly and away from the areas of the house that the older dog sees as his or her space. This means providing the puppy his or her own bowls for food and water as well as a sleeping area that is initially away from the older dog's space. Even if the older dog is not possessive, this is an important first step in the introduction. Once the older dog accepts the puppy they can be moved closer to each other, but only as the older dog accepts the new addition to the family.
At about four to eight months old the puppy will start to test the older dog's patience in most situations. This is especially true if the older dog is a more laid back breed than the puppy, or if the puppy is much larger than the senior dog. When this happens it is critical to have a place where the older dog can go to get away from the constant attention of the puppy. This can be a room of the house, a kennel area outside or a crate that the older dog sees as his or her safe area. Owners have to work to train the puppy to stay out of this area. Keep in mind that the older dog may growl, snarl or snap at the puppy for invading his or her space and this needs to be very closely monitored until the puppy respects this area as belonging to the older dog.
In cases where the puppy is much larger than the older dog and you have noted that the puppy is aggressive or overly exuberant around the senior dog it is important to keep them apart when you are not there to supervise. Puppies can simply overwhelm a senior dog and this can result in aggression, even with very well socialized older dogs and juveniles. Keeping the two separate when you are not there to supervise will help maintain peace between the dogs plus it will also avoid overexertion and stress on the senior dog.