Canine Behavior/my 8 year old dog is suddenly acting like a puppy
So some back ground on my dog she is a Labrador shes smaller only 50 lbs at most I rescued her 7 years ago she is 8 years of age we went through a rough first year with her being almost bones plus she came pregnant and she had been beaten. The next 4 years we worked on getting her out of her shell she now love every stranger every dog rarely barks very laid but loves to play and run of course. Nothing has changed in our routine lately. I wake up for work she eats we walk then I leave when I get back I change we go to the dog park come home eat play and watch TV while cuddling. And weekends we go out of town to my parents so she can run their many acres and play with my moms dogs. In the last two or so months shes been whiny doesn't want to sit still and suddenly freaking out when she sees other dogs which is unlike her shes very tame on a leash and suddenly jumping up and down scaring other owners with smaller dogs. She means no harm shes just playful but I cant get her to chill I've tried walking her away I've tried kneeling and hold her in a sitting position I've tried my normal commands nothing works. Vet says shes healthy I thought at first maybe something was wrong but it seems behavioral. She had a freak out today and dipped under me out of the best harness I've ever had for her then she stayed out almost 2 hours I tracked her but couldn't catch her after an hour an half I just left the door open wait till she came home. I don't understand the sudden change or why and its just getting worse inside our home and out on the leash. I just want to understand why she cant sit still and how to help her
Thank you for your question. This is a very interesting behavior change. At 8 years old, she is officially in her senior years (even if she has another 8 years left in her). It is common that we see behavior changes as dogs enter their senior years - often, though, the changes we see are related to the aging process such as arthritis or otherwise stiff joints - which can agitate a dog and prompt them to pace or just stand rather than settle down. This may be part of what you're seeing in the house when you say she's unable/unwilling to sit still. While she may have stiff joints that make it harder to settle in (or get up), the excitement when out in the world can often motivate the dog through any stiffness or discomfort, so even if she's jumping or running outside, that doesn't rule out the potential for joint pain at other times. In fact, she may push through any discomfort while out and then pay the price later that night or the next morning with increased pain or stiffness. Of course, her unsettledness in the house could be as simple as boredom, but I don't yet have enough information to determine that. What activities does she have at home - chew toys, puzzle toys, food dispensing toys such as Kongs to entertain her while you're out or busy... what games do you play with her at home?
Before I can offer any real guidance to the behavior with other dogs, I need more information.
Can you describe for me exactly what she's doing when you say "suddenly freaking out when she sees other dogs"? Is she barking, pulling, play bowing, showing her teeth, rearing up on her hind legs (front feet off the ground)? Is her tail pointed to the sky and stiff, high and wagging (fast, slow, stilted), parallel to her body, low, between her legs? How is it moving at the position its in? Does her tail fluctuate between multiple positions?
How far is she from these other dogs when she begins to display this new behavior pattern?
Once she gets up to the dogs, how does she behave? Is she polite and respectful of their space, does she try to initiate a game (if so, how? what does she do?), is she pushy and invading their space? Does she jump on the dog, paws or chin over the other dog's shoulders or head? Does she put herself lower to the ground than the other dog's head?
Is it only specific dogs? Is it a particular breed or breed type? A particular size/weight (only smaller than her or larger than her or varies) or color of dog? Males or females or both? Puppies, adults, seniors or all ages?
Prior to this behavior change a couple months ago, how were her interactions with dogs of this type? Did she have any different encounters with such a dog (e.g. a scuffle or get rebuffed by a dog whom she wanted to play with or that dog wasn't allowed to come over to her to greet)?
What is the brand of harness that she slipped out of?
When you try walking her away at those high arousal moments, what does she do? Does she pull back toward the thing that's exciting her? Does she move with you, but looking back at the other dog? Does she go with you willingly and forget about the other dog? Once you've got her well away (out of sight) of the other dog, how long does it take her to settle down and act "normally" again?
What does she do when you try kneeling and holding her in a sit position? Is she facing the other dog when you do this or do you set her up so her back is to the other dog? Are you facing the same direction as she is, or are you putting yourself between her and the other dog and facing her (trying to block her view)?
What are your normal commands that you've tried? How does she behave when you try giving those commands? Is it as if she's deaf and didn't hear you? Does she look like she's hearing you (acknowledge you at all with a glance or ear twitch in your direction) but just unable/unwilling to comply? Does she comply, but only for a moment?
Have you tried distracting her with high value, super tasty treats or favorite toys in those situations? If so, does she take the treats or play with the toy? If she takes the treat, does she take them as gently as she does at home, or does she snatch them from your hand, or does she completely ignore the treats or toy?
The more details you can provide, the clearer the picture is for me and the better able I'll be to offer useful advice to you.
If you have any video at all of one of these moments, I'd love to view it. You can upload it to YouTube and set it as UNLISTED, then you can reply to this response, choosing to make it private, and provide me the link to the video. This will keep the video private for my viewing only. If you're comfortable making it a public video, then you can keep it and your followup public as well.
I look forward to your detailed reply and trying to help you figure out how best to address this issue going forward.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist