If you've noticed that your dog is quieter than usual, you may be wondering if it's normal. While many dogs become quieter or more reserved as they mature from the crazy puppy and adolescent stage into adulthood, a change in activity levels or typical behavior for your dog can mean there are other things going on that you need to address.
There are a few reasons a dog may become quieter than usual: pain, stress, or boredom. While a quieter dog may not feel like such a "problem" to us, it's important to make sure their behavior change isn't a sign of a bigger medical or behavioral issue.
Determining why your puppy is suddenly quieter than normal or your aging dog is more reserved than they used to be can help ensure that you're meeting their needs and they are enjoying a good quality of life.
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Is Your Dog Quiet Because They Are in Pain?
While slowing down with age might be something you consider normal, for dogs, it's not usually the case. Sure, we as people might get more cynical or curmudgeonly as we age, but that’s not really a thing that dogs do — unless there’s an underlying problem.
With age, there are higher odds of developing chronic pain or disease, which is what often causes a slow down and more reserved nature. And because these signs are just brushed off as a natural and acceptable aspect of aging, the pain and illnesses that actually cause the slowdown often go undiagnosed and untreated. Age itself isn’t a disease.
Medical Conditions That May Cause Aging Dogs to be Quieter Than Usual:
- Arthritis: Inflammation and pain in the joints. This can affect their knees, elbows, hips, and any other joint in their body. (Did you know that dogs pretty much have the same joints as we do? They just can’t safely take the same arthritis pain medications as we can!) If you suspect joint pain, read more on how you can help your arthritic dog.
- Spondylosis: This is a general term meaning degeneration of the spinal column, but often used to describe painful arthritis and increased bone growth in the vertebral bones (“backbone”) that surround and protect the spinal cord.
- Pinched nerves and compressed discs: Acute injury or conditions like IVDD (Intervertebral disc disease) can severely affect a dog's energy and movement.
- Dental disease: Pain in the mouth may affect your dog's regular eating and drinking habits, causing lethargy.
- Hypothyroidism: Decreased thyroid function, a hormonal/endocrine condition. Sometimes hypothyroidism can be a bit tricky to diagnose, but often easily treated.
- Kidney disease: Either from degeneration, infection, kidney stones, toxins, or other causes.
- Hepatitis: Inflammation of the liver, which can happen from a variety of causes.
- Cancer: Along with the potential to wreak wide-ranging problems throughout the body, cancers affecting a dog’s spleen, liver, or kidneys can cause painful swelling and inflammation of those organs. Bone tumors can be extremely painful, and tumors affecting the lungs can make it more difficult and painful for a dog to breathe.
- Vision loss: Not being able to see as well as before, or sudden blindness, may cause a dog to slow down and become more tentative or reserved. Things to look out for include cataracts or high blood pressure, which can cause sudden blindness.
Other Medical Reasons a Puppy or Dog Might be More Quiet Than Usual:
If you have a puppy or adult dog who is unusually or suddenly quiet, you will want to contact your veterinarian immediately to rule out potential health reasons. These may include:
- Infection: Such as parvovirus, distemper, respiratory illnesses (such as bordetella/kennel cough), or gastrointestinal illnesses.
- Anemia: A deficiency in healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for oxygen delivery to different parts of the body, when they are low, sufficient oxygen cannot be supplied.
- Intestinal parasites: Can cause gastrointestinal issues (vomiting, diarrhea, gas, etc) or anemia.
- Teething Pain: Some dogs experience oral pain as they transition from their deciduous (puppy) teeth to their adult teeth. This is especially true when they have only partially lost a premolar, and the gum is inflamed where they must chew food. Check out "Dog Trainer Tips for Nipping and Biting Puppies" for info on how to help your puppy through the teething stage.
- Gas and Stomach Upset: Changes in diet, stress, or illness can create issues with the GI tract.
- Medications: Medications, whether it is monthly preventatives or antibiotics, can cause gastrointestinal issues or lethargy.
- Diet Change: When diet changes (switching from puppy food to adult food), dietary indiscretion (i.e. eating human foods), or changes in treats can all affect the GI tract resulting in gas, vomiting, or diarrhea. Learn how to safely change your dog's food here.
- Pain or Trauma: Any type of pain, whether due to illness or injury, will cause a puppy or adult dog to suddenly become quiet.
- Poisoning: A side-effect of many poisonings is lethargy as well as GI issues.
- Congenital Issues: Issues of the heart or liver can cause changes in your puppy’s energy level.
How to Tell if Your Dog is in Pain
Here are some things to look for that might help indicate that your dog is in pain — you don’t want to miss or brush off these signs. Unfortunately, many of the more reserved and “slowing down” dogs are actually in pain. Fortunately, once they're properly diagnosed and evaluated, that pain can often be minimized or even alleviated.
NEVER self-diagnose or self-prescribe medications for your dog, even if you’ve had dogs your whole life or if you are a member of the human medical profession — the results can be painful, distressing, and devastating. It's also important to speak with your veterinarian prior to giving any previously prescribed medication to your dog, as circumstances may have changed related to the dosage or interactions with other supplements or medications your dog is on.
Of course, not all dogs who are quieter than usual or slow down are in pain. Let's look at other reasons your dog may be more quiet than usual.
Is Your Dog Quiet Because They Are Stressed or Anxious?
Stress in dogs is much more common than many people realize. And while not all stress is "bad," a dog's cortisol levels (the stress hormone) increase due to abrupt changes in the home environment, scary events, or even as a response to perceived stress in humans. This could be the addition or loss of a family member or another pet, a bad experience at the
If a dog is constantly stressed and doesn't have a chance to decompress, that constant high level of cortisol keeps their brain in a state of fight, flight, or freeze. You may notice your dog is quiet because they are hiding (the flight response). For some dogs, stress means they simply shut down and don't offer any behavior — that "unusual quiet" you may be noticing.
Here’s a list of some common stress signs. If you think your dog is stressed or anxious, connect with a certified canine behavior consultant to help you figure out why and address their underlying stress and anxiety.
Another aspect of stress and "quiet" behavior to consider is the training methods used with a dog and their learning history. When punishment-based training methods are used, we tend to see a dog who stops offering behavior and appears quiet and subdued. Why? They live in a state of anticipated punishment. And if you're always worried about being on the receiving end of punishment, often you just stop doing anything.
This is just one reason to always use force-free, science-backed, positive reinforcement training methods. You can learn more here about why you should avoid using punishment and aversives with your dog, like shock, prong, or choke collars.
Is Your Dog Quiet Because They Are Bored?
Boredom is not usually the cause of a quieter-than-normal dog. It is completely normal for a well-exercised and well-enriched dog to lounge around quietly during the day, resting and recharging for their next fun activity. Puppies tend to sleep a lot! It feels like they're either going 100 mph or passed out for a nap. You should notice a change in daily sleep patterns as they enter adolescence (around 6 months of age).
However, some dogs may exhibit boredom by quietly following you around — watching and waiting to see if you'll interact with them, and perhaps giving you that particular "look" of boredom.
If a dog is bored, we often see them engage in destructive behavior — chewing up things around the home or even starting to lick and chew on themselves (lick granulomas). A bored dog may also engage in boredom barking. To help prevent or treat boredom, you can try a few different things:
- Use interactive food puzzles for all of your dog's meals.
- Try out a new enrichment activity every day.
- Go on a sniffari walk for both physical and mental exercise.
- Consider whether your dog will enjoy and do well in dog daycare one or two days a week.
- Here are our Top 10 Boredom Busters for Dogs for more ideas!
If you suspect that your dog's destructive behavior or barking may be due to separation anxiety (especially if it only happens when your dog is left alone), visit our Dog Separation Anxiety page to learn how to fix it.
If you're worried about your dog's behavior being quieter than usual, or there is a sudden change in their energy levels, it's always best to contact your veterinarian to rule out pain or other illness. Once you identify the cause of your dog's quiet behavior, you can make sure that they are getting the care, enrichment, and activity they need to live their best life!