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Canine Behavior/Agitation/liveliness questioned


I have two intelligent shitzu/pomeranian mixed dogs. They're normally very well tempered and happy. Recently, however, I took it upon myself to keep their brains active through brain games. For some reason, playing games makes them very agitated and will direct their agitation towards each other, when theyre usually very sweet to each other, kissing each other. I've also noticed that the male dog seems less lively. I fear that its old age (10). I also wonder if they've picked up on my anxiety and negativity. I also wonder if my family walks them enough while I'm gone. We may have different standards of "enough". Is it okay to encourage healthy activities? Because they seem to become excited when I play these games with them, but I don't want to cause any unnecessary agitation.

Although you are attempting (and very wisely so, let me add) to increase cognition and problem solving in your dogs (which playing "games" does), what appears to be happening is the younger is more capable.  An older dog (much like an older Human although we don't like to admit it) loses some "cognition" (in a Human, IQ points, so to speak, and the ability to retain new information because the brain is "packed" with a lifetime of information.)

Any change in your environment which causes distress between your dogs must cease immediately.  "Games" are not intended to create agitation (anxiety and a test of social hierarchy between the dogs), they are intended to encourage the dog to "think through" things, to "plan" appropriately and to problem solve (and yes, dogs DO these things even though we Humans like to think of ourselves as the only living organisms with brains LOL).

The older dog seems "less lively" because he is "losing" these "games" and is being challenged (in the dog culture) in his position in social hierarchy.  He is "depressed" (Krespie's Depression, a sign of diminishing rank in social hierarchy).

Games should not cause over excitement.  In this case, it appears to have become a "contest" between the dogs (which IT IS.)  Stop.  Greet the older dog first, feed him first, and make the younger aware that YOU, at the top of the "chain of command", consider the older dog higher in social status between them.  This should, over time, increase the older dog's confidence and diminish any "idea" of rank opportunism toward the older dog.

Exercise is something best left to your veterinarian: 10 yo dog may have orthopedic issues (or even heart issues, we don't know) that make strenuous exercise (lots of fast walking) a very serious error.  The younger dog may benefit from same but, again, orthopedic issues still exist in the young (even in these "designer breeds").  So I would inquire of your veterinarian how to exercise, how much to exercise, for what period of time, and at what pace, for both dogs.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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