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When Your Older Dog Gets Too Clingy

friendly dog being wiggly on his back

Your once-independent doggie is suddenly acting attention-starved and won't leave your side. What to do?

First, because your dog is older and this is new behavior, his "clinginess" may be indicative of an underlying medical condition. Be sure to have your veterinarian give him a full physical. If he is losing his hearing or sight, which is common in older dogs, this could be making him feel much more dependent on you and anxious when you leave him.

Also, anxiety in older dogs can be indicative of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), a disease which functions much like Alzheimer's in humans. If your dog is diagnosed with CDS, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to help treat this illness. If your vet has ruled out medical causes for your dog's behavior, then you should start treating him behaviorally.

Making your older dog feel more independent

You'll find that simple exercises, coupled with lots of love and patience, can make your older dog feel more independent and less anxious. A good and simple exercise is to distribute your dog's meal/kibble around the house. If he wants to eat, he has to walk away from you. This reminds him that he can still have positive experiences even when you're not right beside him.

Other things to remember

  • Don't make a fuss when you leave or come home. This will only make him more anxious when you leave the house.
  • Review the "sit" and "stay" commands with your dog. Practice these commands while moving away from him a short distance, then slowly increase the time and distance. Reward him when he obeys.
  • Try not to reward clingy behavior. Ignore your dog if he follows you around or demands attention, and reward him when he lies quietly.
  • As an older fellow, he is likely experiencing more aches and pains. Provide him with a soft, easily washed bed located close to you, and teach him to use it.
  • If your dog is experiencing vision loss, don't rearrange the furniture. He will adapt much more easily to his environment if furniture remains in the same location.

And remember, older dogs do need extra attention. Make an effort to spend time with him when you can: Take him on car rides, play gentle games by tickling his paws, or sit on the floor just touching him. Small gestures can reassure him that you're still there for him in his Golden Years.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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