Q: If you adopt an older shelter pet, how long does their memory last? We adopted a miniature schnauzer in 2011. Overall, Pepper is happy, but sometimes she acts depressed – just looking away as if she’s thinking of something else. Could she be remembering a life she once had? – M.C., Henderson, Nev.
A: “We know that dogs recognize people they haven’t seen in a very long time,” says Canada-based veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg. “But that’s not the same as thinking about a person or experience from the past. We don’t honestly know if dogs are capable of that. Regardless, there’s no way to ask your dog. If indeed the dog is acting sad, offering attention might reward that behavior. Instead, take out a ball or favorite toy.”
It might be interesting to maintain a diary of when this “looking away” occurs; you might find that there’s a pattern.
If your dog appears mildly anxious in general, ask your veterinarian about Anxitane (L-theanine), a copy of a calming pheromone called Adaptil, or a new product called Zylkene (derived from casein, a protein in milk, which encourages relaxation).
Q: My 13-year-old miniature schnauzer recently became a recluse, spending most of the day under the couch. Sometimes she comes out on her own, but other times she stays there eight hours a day. Our veterinarian is baffled, and prescribed Valium, which hasn’t helped.
The dog’s appetite isn’t the same as it was, and until we began cooking chicken for her, she’d go days without eating. We had another dog who we put down in June, but the behavior began well before that. It’s so sad, like we don’t have a dog in the house at all. Are we missing something? – B.B., Cyberspace
A: Landsberg, an author of “Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat – Third Edition” with Dr. Wayne Hunthausen and Dr. Lowell Ackerman (Saunders/Elsevier, New York, NY, 2013; $94.99), says, “Anytime there’s a sudden change in behavior, first rule out a medical explanation. A thorough exam, looking particularly at pain (from osteoarthritis to dental issues) is important.”
In the book “Decoding Your Dog,” Landsberg wrote the chapter on canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCDS), the dog version of Alzheimer’s disease. Look for these signs:
1. Disorientation: Periodic confusion, seeming to forget favorite people, perhaps getting lost in the house where the pet has lived his/her entire life.
2. Interactions with people: Clingy dogs may become aloof, or vice versa.
3. Sleep pattern changes: Overnight, a dog may be restless, perhaps pacing or crying out. Also, the dog sleeps far more during the day.
4. House-training errors: Accidents occur with no apparent explanation.
5. Changes in activity level: Of course, older animals are less active, but often the thrill of life appears to be gone from dogs who previously wagged their tails as soon as they woke up in the morning.
“There are products that may help if the veterinarian determines this dog has cognitive decline,” says Landsberg. “The earlier you intercede, the more likely you are to be successful in slowing and conceivably reversing the decline.”
Landsberg advises to never force your dog from her hiding place. Instead, try to coax her out with food or toys. And reward play behavior.
“It would be interesting to see what happens if you blocked off access to your dog’s hiding place,” Landsberg adds.
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