The Main Causes of Doggy Depression, and What to Do About It

While depression is not recognized as a medical condition in dogs, that doesn’t mean that your dog cannot have depressive symptoms. In fact, symptoms of dog depression may indicate a larger medical condition, and therefore should be monitored carefully.

The main things that usually alerts owners to their dog being unhappy are changes in behavior. Dr. Leslie Sinn, DVM, CPDT-KA and member of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, explains: “This could mean that the dog is not interacting the way she usually does, or not engaging the way she normally does. It might include not wanting to go for walks, or not eating meals.”

If these behaviors last more than a day or two, they can indicate a medical problem, and you should bring your dog to the veterinarian to run tests.

Many older dogs can exhibit symptoms that seem like depression but turn out to be something else. “A big concern is untreated pain, which can mirror depressive symptoms,” says Dr. Sinn.  “In our older dogs, for example, we worry a lot about untreated pain, such as arthritis. These symptoms could mirror ‘depressive’ symptoms, but actually point to a much greater and more dangerous condition.”

More information about depressive symptoms can be found here.

One symptom in particular that is often mistaken for a depressive symptom is an increase in lethargy. Before bringing your dog to the veterinarian, try to engage him in activities that he previously enjoyed, like fetch. Sometimes, one-on-one time with you might be all your pup needs to cheer up. If this doesn’t work, consult your vet to rule out medial problems.

It’s also important to monitor your dog’s appetite. “If the animal is feeling very poorly and refuses to eat for an extended period of time, that would put their decline ahead of schedule and is considered very harmful,” warns Dr. Sinn. “If a pet is refusing to eat for an extended period of time, this could be a serious problem.”

New stressors in a dog’s environment can bring on anxiety as well. “There are a number of things the owner can do to help lower stress, including keeping the dog away from crowded situations, decreasing chaos and unscheduled activities in the home, providing the pup with toys, walks and an increase in one-on-one interaction,” recommends Dr. Sinn. If these changes do not work on your dog, there are medications that your vet can give your dog to help with the anxiety.

The keys to stopping depressive symptoms in your dog, if there are no real medical problems, are very similar to what you would do for a person who is sad. Increasing positive interactions and decreasing chaos and stress will have your dog playing and running around in no time. 

How to tell if your dog is healthy

Since your dog hasn’t mastered speaking in words yet, you may wonder how you can tell if your dog is feeling okay. It turns out, many of the clues can come from just looking at your dog and reading his body language.

Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, shares some of the signs to be on the lookout for when it comes to your furry friend’s health:

  • Good appetite

  • High energy level

  • Healthy-appearing coat

  • Interactive behavior

  • No vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, sneezing, increased thirst or unexplained weight loss

The above signs are just the beginning of being able to tell if your dog is healthy, though. Different parts of your dog’s body hold the key to determining if she is truly healthy.

The Mouth
If you notice that your dog has bad breath, it can be an indication of the need for a dental check up, or even something more. “ Some odors may be indicative of fairly serious chronic problems,” said Dr. Murray. “Liver or intestinal diseases may cause foul breath, whereas a sweet, fruity smells may be indicative of diabetes. If your dog’s breath smells like ammonia or urine, kidney disease is a possibility. Any time you notice your pet has bad breath accompanied by other signs of ill health, schedule a visit to the veterinarian.”

Another unlikely place to look to tell if your dog is healthy are his gums. “Once a week, with your dog facing you, lift his lips and examine his gums and teeth,” says Dr. Murray. “The gums should be pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling. His teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar.”

 Not only can irregularities mean a problem with your dog’s mouth, but it can also be a sign of gastrointestinal issues.

The Eyes
Your dog’s eyes are also indicators of his overall health and wellbeing.  In fact, many vets recommend that you give your dog regular home eye exams to keep you aware of any potential health problems. Dr. Murray explains how easy it is to do this: “Face your dog in a brightly lit area, and look into his eyes. They should be clear and bright, and the area around the eyeball should be white. His pupils should be equal in size, and there shouldn’t be tearing, discharge or any crust in the corners of his eyes. With your thumb, gently roll down your dog’s lower eyelid and look at the lining. It should be pink, not red or white.”

If you do notice a problem, call your veterinarian. They can prescribe medicine to heal any eye disorders that can be impairing your pooch’s vision.

The Skin
Be mindful of your dog’s skin, as well. “Your dog’s skin is an indication of her overall health,” says Dr. Murray. “When a skin problem occurs, your dog may respond with excessive scratching, chewing and/or licking. A wide range of causes -- including external parasites, infections, allergies, metabolic problems and stress, or a combination of these -- may be affecting your dog’s skin.”

 Skin problems can also affect your dog’s fur, which can result in excessive shedding.

Here are some other ways to tell if your dog may be ill.

Other more common signs of an ill or injured dog include pale gums, rapid breathing, weak or rapid pulse, change in body temperature, and difficulty standing. And of course, if you’re ever really in doubt as to whether or not your pup is sick, making a trip to the vet can help, if only to alleviate your worry.

Prepare your Dog For Guests

Inviting guests to your home when you have a new or energetic dog can prove to be challenging. Just a little training -- for both your dog and your guests -- will make visits more enjoyable for everyone, though.

The Jumping Hurdle
A big concern for dog owners is jumping. Dr. Rebecca Jackson, DVM, staff veterinarian at Petplan pet insurance, explains, “The goal is to have your dog remain calmly in a sit-stay or down-stay while the doorbell rings and guests enter,” she said. “If he starts jumping or barking, ask your guests to ignore him. Teach them to turn their backs on him, and avoid eye contact, talking to him, petting or pushing him down. Once he realizes that his behavior is not getting him the attention he wants, he will eventually give up.” 

Believe it or not, even scolding your dog for his improper behavior is still giving him attention, so it’s important to stay calm. Practicing this with neighbors or friends can help get your dog used to guests coming to your home.

Once your guests are in your home, if your dog still hasn’t calmed, it might be best to put him in another room where he has a bed, water and some toys, so he can calm down safely and avoid injuring anyone. 

The Beggar
If you’re serving food, your dog might start to beg. “Breaking a bad habit, whether it’s jumping or begging, has the same formula: don’t ‘feed’ the bad behavior … literally,” says Dr. Jackson. “Your dog needs to be ignored to learn that fussing and begging will not get him what he wants. Ask your guests to refrain from making eye contact with him or touching your dog while they’re eating, and never offer treats from the table.”

Not giving your dog food from your table should be the rule all the time, which will help train your dog to behave when guests are eating.

Bribing your dog with treats when he is doing a bad behavior such as jumping is the opposite of training. “Treats, toys, affection [petting] and verbal praise [such as ‘good’] should only ever be used as rewards, when your dog is doing what you want,” said Dr. Jackson. “If your dog is jumping and you call him away with a treat, he will quickly learn that jumping equals treats. If your dog is being ignored, and he finally gives up and walks away calmly, then offer praise and a reward.”

Check out more information about how to train using treats here.

Overnight Guests
If your guests are staying overnight, try to keep your dog on his normal schedule. Unless his space or routine is disrupted, then it shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re having kids over, you need to consider whether your pup is normally calm and gentle or easily excitable and jumpy. If you think your dog could possibly not interact well with a child, you may want to keep her in another room. “Even with calm dogs, visiting children should also be instructed on how to behave, including not petting too hard,” said Dr. Jackson.  “And never, ever leave your dog alone with a child. Even the most even-tempered dog can bite if he’s hurt or frightened.”

Preparing your dog for visitors is one step in the ongoing process of training that doesn’t end with sit and stay. “Training is not only about teaching your dog -- it is about you learning how to teach your dog, and how to instruct others to carry the training through,” said Dr. Jackson.

How to Set Boundaries With Your Dog

Boundaries are not only important with the human members of our families that we love, but with the four-legged ones, too! Dogs need to be taught what they are allowed to do and what is off limits. Heather Loenser, DVM, an Emergency Veterinarian at Crown Veterinary Specialists in Lebanon, N.J., says that the most important key to maintaining boundaries is to be consistent.

When to Train
Starting out is always the hardest part. The best time to set boundaries for your dog is when he is introduced to a new environment, like when you bring home your new puppy.

Here is some other advice on making your home ready for your new puppy

Of course even if you’ve already set up some boundaries with your pup, any changes in your environment may confuse your dog, and you may need to set some new ones. Dr. Loenser recommends being consistent with correcting your dog as soon as he enters an area where he’s not meant to be, and being firm but not too frightening. Choose specific words, sounds or a tone of your voice that you only use to convey to your dog that you are serious about a command. Always praise the dog when he leaves the forbidden area.

Pick the right method
If you have a specific room in your home that you would prefer your dog not enter, baby gates are a good option. “Just like toddlers, dogs can be kept safe and confined behind baby gates to segment the house into dog-free zones,” said Dr. Loenser. Keep in mind that, also like smart toddlers, these barriers can be overcome by determined and athletic canines who are willing to climb or jump over them to get out. Be sure to securely attach gates, especially near stairs, as your dog’s safety is very important.

Another option to help teach your dog boundaries is an electronic barrier. This method uses a collar that sends slight electric signals to your dog if he attempts to enter an off-limits area of your home or yard. “If they venture too close, they are consistently given a warning ‘beep’ and then a static correction,” said Dr. Loenser. “Similarly, if they cross a boundary, like a predetermined spot in the yard, they will be corrected as well. In both scenarios, the dogs are trained to move away from the boundary and toward the owner to receive a reward.”

There’s no need to worry about harming your dog with an electric collar either, says Dr. Loenser. “With reputable products, the correction feels similar to the tingle you receive when you are exposed to static electricity, so it is a surprise to a dog, but it doesn’t cause any sort of serious harm,” she said. “Speak with your veterinarian to determine which type of product they would recommend specifically for your dog.”

Another simple way to discourage your dog from jumping up onto your furniture is to use an empty soup can, coins and duct tape. Fill the can with the coins and tape it closed. “When your dog jumps on your bed, throw the can near -- but not on -- him so that he is scared or shocked by the loud noise,” says Dr. Loenser. “The key to these measures is to be consistent so he feels like whenever he jumps on the couch, the couch always makes this scary noise. You want him to associate this sound with the couch, not you, so he does not begin to fear you.”

Repetition of the sound every time your dog attempts to get onto your couch or bed will teach him that it is off limits.

An alternative technique is to line the edge of your bed or couch with sticky tape. Your dog will not like the feeling of stickiness on his paws or fur, and will avoid the areas with the sticky surfaces.

At the end of the day, using these measures isn’t cruel, and they’re an easy way to ensure all members of your household -- both human and canine -- stay safe and happy.

Lessons Learned From Presidential Dogs

In the White House, they play howl to the chief.

They are presidential dogs -- the most common presidential pets.

Throughout history, U.S. presidents have had faithful companions living with them at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. White House dogs have comforted their owners in times of great national stress, entertained the American public with their antics and done all of the things a normal dog will do -- often in the media spotlight.

“Every president that has a pet seems to be better-liked by the public,” says Claire McLean, founder of the Presidential Pet Museum, which contains a collection of photographs and memorabilia located at Presidents Park in Williamsburg, Va. “The dog-loving public seems to feel that they are much more real and down-to-earth if they have the same type of behavior as the average family.” That includes having to take the dog for a walk.

While most presidential dogs have been deemed a political asset, others have left a legacy of misbehavior. Pet owners nationwide may take comfort in knowing that even first families sometimes have pets with behavior problems, or unknowingly pick the wrong breed for their lifestyle. Some presidential dogs have even been put out to pasture, by being returned to their previous owners or sent to spend the waning days of the administration on the presidential ranch.

Here are some stories about presidential pet misdeeds and what experts advise if you encounter similar behavior:

Grits: The Dog That Snapped at People When Jimmy Carter moved his family from Georgia to Washington, D.C., after his election in 1976, his young daughter Amy was given a mixed breed dog by her former teacher. Amy named the dog Grits, after her father’s campaign slogan, referring to himself and Vice President Walter “Fritz” Mondale as “Grits and Fritz.” “It was a very belligerent dog,” McLean says. “It snapped at people and wasn’t very friendly.” Grits followed a long line of biting dogs in the White House, which included one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s terriers, Meggie, who once bit a senator. Pete, a bull terrier belonging to the other Roosevelt who occupied the White House -- Teddy -- nearly caused an international incident when he ripped off the French ambassador’s slacks during a function. Grits ended up in the doghouse, too, figuratively speaking, and was returned. The Carters then adopted a cat.

What You Can Do Aggressive behavior, such as snapping, biting or snarling, is hard for dog owners to tolerate. There are many reasons why canines exhibit such aggressive behavior -- in response to fear, to protect territory or as a result of a change in the dog’s social status. The Humane Society of the U.S. advises that pet owners get help from an animal behavior specialist to deal with aggression. Socialization is also key. “The best thing to do is start early. A lot of these dogs are received as puppies,” says Trish McMillan, director of animal behavior. “You only have the first four months of a puppy’s life, for the window of socialization, to introduce them to new things. I’m betting that some of these presidents’ dogs were not socialized enough as puppies.”

Lucky: The Dog That Pulled After Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, a March of Dimes poster girl gave his wife, Nancy, a small puppy. The first lady named the dog -- which was a Bouvier des Flanders, or Belgian Cattle dog -- Lucky. “She was just a little bundle of fur when I got her,” Mrs. Reagan wrote in her autobiography, “but she grew to be the size of a pony.” Lucky developed poor leash walking habits. The dog “used to pull them both around the White House,” McLean says. The final straw came after a White House visit by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, when President Reagan was photographed being pulled across the White House lawn -- an undignified image for the leader of the free world. Lucky was sent to live on the Reagan ranch in California, leaving Rex, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, as the only pup in the White House.

What You Can Do Pulling on the leash may be indicative of other problems, such as a dog that is not getting enough exercise. That is especially true of dogs that are bred for herding, farm work, or other activities. The Reagans may have erred in thinking that Lucky could adapt to the more sedate lifestyle in the White House, but clearly found a better environment for the dog on a ranch later in life. If you don’t have a spare ranch, experts advise two options. First, you can train the dog. “The easiest way is to feed the dog meals on the walk,” McMillan says. “Have a bag of kibble in your pocket. Every time they pull on the leash, turn to your left when they’re on your right. But every time they walk nicely, keep the kibble coming.” Another option is to try one of a variety of new training devices, such as harnesses or halter apparatuses that will prevent the dog from pulling.

Buddy: The Dog That Chased Cats After the start of his second term as president, Bill Clinton decided to get a puppy. Buddy, a chocolate Labrador retriever, moved into the White House to join the Clintons’ other pet, a cat named Socks. But Buddy and Socks didn’t see eye to eye. “They never got along,” McLean says. “A lot of times you’d see them sparing on the lawn or running through the White House. The media loved to write about that.” The two pets were eventually kept in separate rooms in the presidential residence, and after the Clintons moved to Chappaqua, N.Y., Buddy went with them, but Socks moved in with Clinton’s secretary, Betty Currie.

What You Can Do The key to getting two or more pets to make nice under the same roof -- even if that roof is that of the White House -- is socialization. McMillan says that critical socialization period is when pups should be introduced not only to people, but to cats, dogs and other animals as well. If you’re introducing more mature pets, “The most important thing is to do a slow introduction,” says McMillan. “Have your dog on a leash, then bring the cat into the room.” Associate good things with the cat, such as treats. If the dog starts to chase, give it a “time out,” restraining it on the leash in a room by itself.

One thing that presidents have learned over the years is that a canine companion can help soften their image. President Herbert Hoover, who presided over the federal government during the Great Depression, had a German shepherd that was noted to be sullen and was often sulking around the White House. McLean says, “When they took a picture of Hoover with the dog, it made Hoover seem like a nice guy, when he actually had a cold demeanor.”