Sudden Changes In Behavior
Did your previously quiet dog suddenly start barking up a storm? Did your previously dog friendly dog suddenly start disliking other dogs? Have you seen a sudden increase in unfriendly behavior towards strangers? Your previously non-cuddly dog start clinging to you and snuggling with you closely? Your previously active and engaged dog suddenly becoming lethargic or disengaged?
Although many of the behavior changes are concerning (rarely do the dogs suddenly become better behaved–haha!), they are really important to take note of for the guardians. Sudden and/or extreme changes in behavior can very easily be connected to a change in a dog’s health. While the behavior change may be annoying or dangerous in some cases, getting irritated or frustrated at the dog could put his/her health and well being in jeopardy.
I had a student come to class recently with her dog. The dog is typically a bit fearful and shy (and was kicked out of another class for reactivity issues, something I hadn’t seen at all in our class), though he’s been getting better in each class. During this particular class however he was quite reactive to other dogs, which is not something we had seen before. He also was slower and less reliable to respond to cues which was really out of character. In talking to the family, they said their other dog had knocked some medicine (Benadryl and a calming supplement for dogs–not more than 1 or 2 of either ) off a counter and ate it, then ate an entire package of treats and some kibble (for class)–they said that pup had vomited outside right before class. I watched the pup for a little bit longer and something was a bit off with him… and so I asked if they KNEW it was the other dog and sure enough they weren’t positive. Based on the behavior changes we saw, we all felt that he may have actually ingested the pills or he had “cleaned up” some of the other dog’s vomit and got some of the pills.
I sent them home after about 15 minutes of class and gave them the number of an emergency vet clinic to contact if needed. If we had just gotten frustrated at his increased reactivity or irritated by his ‘stubbornness’ we could have very well missed the fact that he was really not feeling well and either needed to go home to sleep it off or go to the vet for a consultation and exam. Dog handlers need to be aware that seemingly random changes in behavior can be the first symptoms in medical issues.
There are countless medical conditions that can cause a change in behavior, far too many to list but here are some common medical issues that can cause changes in behavior.
Urinary Tract Infection
Degenerative Disc Disease
Ehrlichiosis (other tickborne diseases)
Injuries (bumps, bruises, lacerations, etc)
Dogs who are feeling under the weather because of allergies, or tummy troubles, or canine coughs/colds are also prone to having behavior changes though these are largely short lived and once the virus/infection has left and the dog feels better, the behavior goes back to normal.