Depression isn’t typically diagnosed in dogs, but veterinarians and behaviorists know the signs of depressive behavior well. But because we can’t ask dogs why they’re behaving this way, it’s important to pay attention to the context around this behavior and know the common causes. Here are 5 reasons why your dog might be acting depressed.
1. Lack Of Attention
There’s a reason why dogs are often saddest in the morning before you leave for work and happiest when you walk in the door after—they want to be around you. Dogs are social animals and love to be with people. Many are left alone long hours without access to human contact, access to bathroom facilities, or an outlet for their energy or natural instincts.
This can lead to depressive behavior, but for many owners, there’s not much they can do about their job schedules. That’s why it’s important to spend quality time with your dog when you can, and that can take many different forms, including physical activity, mental stimulation, brushing, petting, or any other number of activities.
2. Not Enough Exercise
Physical stimulation is important for a dog’s overall health, but your dog’s exercise routine must also sufficiently meet his or her emotional needs. A fenced-in yard can’t replace a regular walk with new smells and sights and sounds.
A good baseline for exercise is a total of five miles of walking per week, but that varies from dog to dog depending on his or her age and energy level. It’s more important to let your dog take her time and enjoy the surroundings, even if that means you just do one block over 20 or 30 minutes.
3. Death Of Family Member Or Fellow Pet
This is one of the most common reasons for depressive behavior in dogs. Unfortunately, it’s also probably the most difficult to deal with because the source of the behavior is irreplaceable. In the case of losing another pet in the house, some respond well to the addition of a new pet, while others will remain depressive, wanting only the company of the one who’s gone.
As for the loss of a human family member, research has shown that a dog’s bond with her owners is similar to a baby’s bond with her parents. Other family members need to step up wherever possible to meet the dog’s physical and especially her emotional needs, in tragic situations like this.
4. Owner Is Depressed
That dog-owner bond goes beyond loss, and one study has shown that dogs can tell whether we are happy or sad by our facial expressions.
Dogs are also being used to detect low blood sugar in diabetics, as well as cancer. They certainly can tune into people and our subtle changes in body language and emotion, so they can be impacted by a family member’s depression. We can’t fool our dogs. They are very in tune with our emotions.
5. Behavior Correction
The way you train your dog may lead to depressive behavior. Dogs who are corrected for unwanted behavior may soon stop offering behaviors at all in order to avoid punishment. Using things like shock collars or other extreme forms of punishment may lead to a state of mind known as learned helplessness that can be associated with depression.
This occurs when people or animals feel helpless to avoid negative situations. In studies, dogs no longer tried to escape shocks if they had been conditioned to believe they couldn’t escape. Instead of punishing for “poor” or “negative” behavior, try rewarding for good behavior. Dogs trained with rewards are often more confident and attentive to their owners than those who are punished.