Doggy personality change?
December 25, 2014 10:18 AM   Subscribe

So, our dog has been a bit... weird lately, not quite like her usual self, and I'm wondering if anyone else has experienced this sort of thing or has any theories about why?

I'll give a bit too much info, but the main stuff at the top:

For the past couple of months or so, she's been much more submissive to us (and others), to the degree that she will hesitate to take a treat (even turning her head aside, and having to be reassured several times that it's okay), or to leave out of the front gate when going for a walk, until she's fully certain that it's okay, for example.

About her: She's around 8-9 years old, we think. She was a rescue, and this is based on the Vet's estimation of her age at the time we got her. She's probably some sort of poodle / terrier mix. (pix) She's super smart, and quite sensitive. We've used only positive reinforcement training, and she's been yelled at (briefly) maybe twice in the 6+ years we've had her -- once when she growled and snapped at me when I reached to take away a high value treat, once when she took food from our coffee table; she's never repeated either behavior, both of which happened in the first year. If she does something I don't want her to do, all I have to do is say "No," gently, in a certain way she recognizes, with a quiet voice, and she responds.

We have a very laid-back, calm, cheerful household, and nothing has changed recently. We don't put lot of emphasis on training: just "house manners," basically, and she learns very, very quickly.

The only thing I can connect this with is that she recently had to visit the Vet several times (Does Not Like). She had an eye infection and had injections and eye salve that we had to continue for a while (she was quite patient with this at home). ALSO at right about the same time, she had what looked like a UTI that did not respond to initial antibiotic treatment, so she had to go back to the Vet several times, and she got a sonogram (no stones or other trouble found), and full blood test (everything perfect) while we were at it. Oddly, the Vet said the urine culture came back clean, but she was constantly licking her genital area and began peeing on her bedding. After we asked about trying penicillin (because the last time she had a really bad case of UTI that was not responding, this is what worked for her), she recovered.

I just wonder if she has somehow equated being ill / having to go to the Vet so many times as a kind of punishment or something, hence being extra double careful about not doing anything "wrong"?

More details on changes in how she acts:

Whereas she often gets too excited and "grabs" treats from our hand, we now have to convince her that it's okay to take the treat. We've tried to train her to take treats gently, but have only been halfway successful, because she's often too thrilled about the treat.

Whereas she's usually *very* impatient to run out of the gate (though she waits until we say she can go) when leaving to go on a walk, we now have to tell her several times it's okay to go out the front gate.

Whereas she will only reluctantly pause to wait when we approach a cross street while on a walk (because she's very excited to get to the park on the other side), she now has to be assured several times it's okay to cross.

Whereas she would normally greedily snap up the treats given to her by our local friendly neighborhood grocer, she now leaves them lay on the ground until my husband or I tell her several times it's okay, or we pick up the treat and give it to her from our hand. (and I'm talking good stuff - end bits of ham or turkey from their slicing machine)

Whereas usually she is kind of overexcited and sort of begging for food (hypnotic stare) when we take her with us to the local outdoor cafe (because people there know her and totally spoil her with treats), she's been perfectly behaved, no begging or being antsy.

She behaves normally with her regular meals: we put the bowl down, and ask her to sit, or maybe "down," and she waits for us to say "okay!" and then she dashes to snarf up her food. She hasn't seemed depressed or lethargic or anything otherwise -- not since recovering from the apparent UTI and eye infection.

She's never been punished by us, aside from, for example, saying something like, "aw, man, Sky, why you gotta do that?" when she would snap at a treat from our hand and catch a finger. She's with one or both of us nearly 24/7; nothing would have happened with her that we didn't know about. It's not exactly a HUGE change, but it's kind of weird and we don't understand it. My husband worries that she may be becoming slightly senile, since we can't be sure of her age, but her behavior is normal other than being more reticent / concerned about the stuff I mentioned.

I'd be very interested in thoughts or ideas about this, or reports of similar behavior, and what it might mean. Thank you!
posted by taz to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you checked her vision and her hearing? Loss of either one will cause a tremendous drop in confidence of dogs, and behavior change as a result.
posted by juniperesque at 10:25 AM on December 25, 2014 [14 favorites]

Age may also be a factor. My pup's affect and behavior now, compared to how she was even a few years ago, is pretty different, more laid back, less "go.go.go.go".... (also, fussier about treats, there are some that she used to eat that she'll just spit out and leave on the floor)....
posted by HuronBob at 10:56 AM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is she on any antibiotics or prednisone?
posted by Riverine at 10:59 AM on December 25, 2014

I have been told by three different Vets that an abrupt change in behaviors most often means a medical problem. As junioeresque said, (and your pup doesn't want to hear), it's time for a really thorough check-up.
posted by donaken at 10:59 AM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is she on any antibiotics or prednisone?

Hey, no, she's not on any medication at all.

time for a really thorough check-up.

What all would this include? She's had the sonogram I mentioned, and full blood test recently, as well as manual physical checking by our Vet.

As for hearing and sight, hearing is definitely okay, but we can check her for sight, which certainly could be an issue.

Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions so far!
posted by taz at 11:14 AM on December 25, 2014

Stroke? Our dog had serious personality change after a seizure. It was a short episode and we were only by chance around when it happened, but he was definitely a different dog after the fact. (Still looked and walked the same, I would stress, just acted differently.)
posted by IndigoJones at 11:24 AM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

A friend's dog became much more timid and refused to go down stairs; it turned out the dog's hair had grown a tad too long and was obscuring his vision. A bit of a trim around the eyes solved everything.
posted by embrangled at 12:26 PM on December 25, 2014

She's adorable! I want to second that you might want to check her vision. Dogs can lose vision quickly in some cases and I wonder if that might be what's happening.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:29 PM on December 25, 2014

Agreeing with those above about possible vision loss. My 10-year-old dog went through a very similar phase this year for about 2-3 months. Somewhere in there I realized he had lost a lot of vision (with no real explanation as to why from the vet, except that he's getting older), and I think he just needed some time to readjust to the new normal.
posted by pril at 12:45 PM on December 25, 2014

If my dogs were doing this, I would definitely put vision up high on my list of suspects. It's the combo of the street-crossing and the apparent difficulty with treats on the floor* versus treats held closer to her eyes/nose.

*Another suspect: how's her neck flexibility? You said she's okay bending down to eat from a bowl, but would she be even more enthusiastic if you put her food and water up on a riser? After having a dog with spinal problems in the past, we now keep all water and food up at about chest level and they prefer it, though it doesn't stop them from eating all manner of things off the floor. It's possible that her actual visual acuity is fine, but if she's limited in her head/neck range of motion she might be afraid to look around and therefore effectively "blind" to the sides.

I have not ever looked, but I suspect that there are instructions online for simple vision tests you can do at home (behavioral-based observational tests, I mean), which you could record on video if you get any questionable results, and maybe get the vet to look at the recording first before deciding to put her through another vet visit.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:18 PM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just wonder if she has somehow equated being ill / having to go to the Vet so many times as a kind of punishment or something, hence being extra double careful about not doing anything "wrong"?

This seems entirely plausible to me. Dogs work really, really hard to figure out what we want and how to respond to us. Her most recent history involves a lot of inexplicable (to her) unpleasantness, so maybe she's still processing that. If that's the case, time + love + consistency is the cure.

I know you're worried about age-related dementia. She's not too young but her behavior seems awfully controlled for that.

Check her vision, as suggested above. (If she's going blind, it'll be more traumatic for you than her.) Otherwise, wait and see how she does over the next few weeks.
posted by dogrose at 2:07 PM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing check her vision. Also check her mouth and teeth for any injuries. If she has, say, a chipped tooth, it might be painful for her to chew, and that's why she's reluctant to take food.
posted by Boogiechild at 3:34 PM on December 25, 2014

Our girl has always responded to ongoing pain as if she's done something wrong. Her difficult-to-treat UTI turned into kitty-licking turned into a hot spot, so that sitting was painful. Took us a while to figure this out; topical cortisone & anti fungal cleared it up after 10 days.

Since then we always gave her a slow-chew treat while we are doing possibly painful things: brushing, swiping the sleep from her eyes, tick checks. Toothache is another stealthy source of pain.

If you haven't already, do mention this behavioral change to the vet before they get in the room with your fluffy smart girl. We recently discovered that her vet panic was in part because she was trying to protect us from the vet. When we left the exam room, she calmed down 75%.
posted by Jesse the K at 8:51 AM on December 26, 2014

Great answers, everyone, and just a quick update on this: she's mostly back to normal, so I think it was an effect of having the back-to-back eye infection then urinary tract infection – so, pain, plus treatments, and the many Vet visits in a short period of time. I really think she was trying to be especially "good" so things would be normal again.

The only thing that she still does is trying to be exxxxxtra careful when taking a treat, but we had been trying to teach her to use a soft mouth with that anyway, so it's okay, though she is a bit extreme with that still at times. ("I'm not looking at that treat; see? I'm turning my head to the side. I don't even want that treat, unless you really really really want to give me that treat. Oh, so you're insisting I take this treat then? Well, okay, I guess, if you're sure you don't want it or anything. Because you could totally have that treat yourself, and I wouldn't mind. Well, if you say so, I guess I wouldn't mind eating this treat."

*ever so delicately takes treat; snarf snarf snarf*
posted by taz at 5:11 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

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