I recently received an email from a woman who wanted to know why I thought her dog, who had been treated for separation anxiety, seemed to be okay for a while but would then have recurring episodes. Of course, there was no way for me to know without doing an in depth consultation. But the recurrence of a behavior issue is a question I’ve come across a number of times over the years, whether the issue was separation anxiety, aggression, fear, or something else. If the dog has already been treated and the issue was resolved, why is the dog acting this way now?
The truth is that without a crystal ball, it’s a very difficult question to answer with certainty. And since my crystal ball is currently under a layer of dust, I’ll tell you what I told the sender of the email: you’ve got to do a bit of detective work. Of course, a veterinary exam is the first order of business, to ensure that the dog isn’t manifesting the behavior because he or she is unwell. But with medical issues ruled out, the goal is to monitor the dog’s behavior and try to make connections to determine whether any other factors coincide with the resurgence. For example:
– Changes in diet. What we eat certainly affects our behavior—just try talking to someone who’s downed a few high energy drinks, or to a child who’s had too much sugar—it’s the same for our dogs. This includes not only changes in the dog’s normal meals, but should take into account visitors or people encountered on the street who give your dog treats he doesn’t normally eat. Treats received at the vet’s or groomer’s office also fall into this category. Food can cause allergies, and allergies can cause discomfort and therefore behavior changes.
– Exercise. Just as we are much calmer after exercise, the same holds true for dogs. If your dog hasn’t been getting out as much or receiving the same type, amount, or intensity of exercise, that could certainly put the body and mind into a state that is not quite as balanced.
– Changes in the household. Do Buffy’s fear issues coincide with visits from Uncle Bob? Perhaps she’s frightened of him. Does Ranger’s aggression seem to come out when Dad is out of town? Perhaps he feels that with Dad away, it’s his job to keep the household safe. Does Muffin’s separation anxiety coincide with Mom’s longer working hours? These are all types of things to consider. Another kind of change in the household would be another dog being gone, whether temporarily or permanently.
– Changes in the environment. Simple changes such as outside noise can throw a dog off balance. Being highly noise-sensitive myself, I can commiserate with dogs who live in a place where construction is going on, or there are suddenly loud sirens or other forms of noise pollution. Even someone playing loud music in the house, or using a new air conditioning or heating unit could cause a reaction in some dogs. Being the environmentally sensitive person that I am, I would even go so far as to consider other changes in the household. For example, my husband, unbeknownst to me, replaced a burned out bulb in my home office with a new CFL type bulb. When he came home, I was curled up on the couch with one of the worst headaches of my life. Turns out some people are sensitive to those bulbs. I’m not saying this is the case with dogs, but that sometimes you have to think outside the box. And that outside-the-box area could even include electromagnetic fields.
– Lack of exposure to the trigger. Fears and aggression issues can be subject to spontaneous recovery. For example, a dog who was successfully rehabilitated for reactivity to other dogs might begin to show the behavior again if he hasn’t seen another dog in a long time.
There are certainly other factors that could play a part in a dog’s changing behavior, but these are a good starting point. If you have others, please add them in the Comments section!