When Senior Dogs Develop Bad Habits

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Q. I have a Cockapoo who will be 12 years old in the fall, and as he's gotten older, he seems to be forgetting house rules. He's starting to beg at the kitchen table again, and he's  trash can treasure hunting, which he hasn't done in years. Is it common for old dogs to develop new bad habits, and is there anything I should do to break those habits?

A. Medical issues and training issues often go hand in hand, and this is frequently true for recently developed or regressed behaviors in senior dogs. Getting your dog a medical evaluation is the first step to take. In my own experience, these behavior changes in senior pets are often closely related to medical issues. When a client brings a senior dog to me because he is soiling the house despite having been potty-trained, I ask the client to take the dog to his veterinarian for a medical workup before we begin the training. More often than not, there turns out to be a medical reason why the dog doesn't have control over his bathroom habits. I will continue with the training only after the dog's veterinarian has given me the green light.

Possible Medical Reasons

Your veterinarian will be able to perform a complete checkup on your pet to clear him of any medical issue that could contribute to his recently developed behavior. One area to discuss with your veterinarian is the possibility of your dog experiencing cognitive dysfunction, or dementia, which has been linked to changes in behavior, including increased anxiety, decreased interaction with the family, disorientation and loss of house training.

Non-Medical Explanations

Senior behavior changes could develop as a reaction to a change or combination of changes in the household. Examples include the passing of a family member, changes in family members' schedules and time spent with the pet, moving, new human or pet additions to the family, or a gradual reduction in the exercise and training regimen.

Another reason for your dog's renewed begging and trash can-raiding behaviors could simply be that he's had recent success with them, reinforced by the reward of tasty morsels off the dinner table or discarded food from the trash. Even though these behaviors were previously trained away, if your pet had a couple of recent successes, it’s very likely he will persistently attempt these behaviors again until he’s been retaught that the behaviors are useless and do not pay off. Unfortunately, not only are these behaviors annoying, but they can be life threatening for canines. Pancreatitis, accidental poisoning and choking hazards are a few of the risks involved with these behaviors.
 
The sooner you can schedule a checkup with your veterinarian and proceed with the proper training if needed, the faster your four-legged family member can get back to his normal behavior that fits within your household rules.

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