How To Read Your Senior Dog’s Body Language During Walks

You may think that as you’ve had your dog for most, if not all their life, you would know them inside out and be able to predict their behaviour in any situation.

That may be perfectly true.

However, there are certain things to consider as your dog ages and how this can affect how he or she interacts with the world when out on a walk.

Firstly, consider how your pup's body may be changing with age. Are there mobility issues? Is your dog developing pain in places he or she never used to have pain?

If this is the case, just as you really don’t want to speak to that 'one person' when you’re feeling under the weather, he or she may be less tolerant of other humans and dogs when out walking.

Watch Their Body Language

A happy, laid-back dog will have a relaxed body with fluid movement.

They will be interested or disinterested in the surroundings depending on their personality. Their eyes will likely be soft, and their tail may even be gently wagging.

Different Types of Dog Body Language

If your senior dog is getting annoyed when out on a walk, he may become stiff and tense.

His eyes may become wide. His tail may go up or he may drop it between his legs. If it’s between his legs, he may appear to cower or make himself look smaller.

He is doing this to avoid confrontation, he just wants to be left alone.

Alternatively, he may be a little feistier, he may growl or lift his or her lip. This is good information – all parties should take notice. Your dog is telling you that he is uncomfortable with the situation.

Meeting Puppies on Walks

Puppies can be particularly bothersome to some senior dogs. Suddenly, this whippet-like creature has appeared, running around, back and forth, jumping, playing, hanging off tails and ears.

If your dog prefers a quiet meander around the block, they may not be happy with being approached by a rambunctious puppy.

Whilst some think senior dogs are a great influence on puppies to teach them the way of the world, you should consider whether or not your senior dog is up to the task.

Puppies may lack dog social etiquette. The last thing you want is your senior dog snapping at a young puppy just because they didn’t understand the rules of the game!  It’s our job to read the situation before it gets to that point.

Things to consider when in public

Is your senior dog hard of hearing or have limited vision? Senior dog vet visits can help determine this and may offer some tips to help your pup adjust.

If your dog has difficulty seeing or hearing, other dogs' sudden approach could startle your dog. Be mindful of people and loose dogs in the area.

Be your dog's advocate. If an interaction is imminent, either make a quick u-turn or ask the loose dog's person to call that dog away.

Be aware that it can be easy for other dogs to misinterpret an older dog's body language if there are mobility issues that make his or her gait awkward.

Signs of stress

It’s essential to look at the whole body in context to establish how your dog is. A yawn is sometimes just an indication that your dog is tired!

Possible signs of stress:

  • Wide eyes (you can see the whites)
  • 'Airplane' ears
  • Snarling
  • Growling
  • Stiff tail
  • Piloerection
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning

These may be indications that your dog isn’t coping with the situation they are in and would rather be removed.

With a senior dog, you also have to consider that he could be in pain, that this walk is just a little too far, or that he or she is just having a bad day.

Your dog will tell you all you need to know; you just need to look for it!

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Positively Expert: John Woods

John Woods first fell in love with dogs volunteering at a shelter over 15 years ago, since then he has gone on to study animal welfare & behavior and is the editor in chief for All Things Dogs. He also serves as their dog behavioural consultant.


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