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Why Is My Dog Cranky? How To Help A Grumpy Dog

Have you ever gotten cranky? We've all been there. Maybe you overworked yourself, didn't get adequate sleep, eat enough or practice any self-care in for the week. It's completely normal for humans to get cranky, but what about our dogs? You may have noticed your dog seems irritable sometimes, which is very possible. So, why is my dog cranky? Here are the answers, plus how to help a grumpy dog.

Do Dogs Get Cranky?

Yes, dogs get cranky, just like humans do. Research has proven that dogs feel emotions such as joy, fear, anxiety, fondness, suspicion, excitement, shyness, discomfort, anger and irritability. In fact, dogs are about as emotionally developed as a two and a half year old. When dogs are cranky, they may appear to be annoyed with you but they likely aren't. This is because researchers and experts believe that, while dogs can experience emotions, they can't assign a motive to it. In other words, they may be cranky for some other reason but express it to you. This also means that their crankiness is a more present or in-the-moment emotion, than a pent up or vengeful one.

Reasons For Crankiness In Dogs

There are several reasons that dogs can become cranky. For example, irritability can arise from not getting enough sleep or being woken up mid-nap. Dogs can also become cranky without receiving proper amounts of physical exercise, mental stimulation or attention. Another reason can be from heat and humidity - think about how grumpy humans can get when overheated and dehydrated. More serious health issues could be the root of irritability as well including pain, arthritis, illness, anxiety.

Puppies and senior dogs, in particular, can become cranky. Adult dogs need to sleep 12-14 hours throughout each day, but young and old dogs need more. Puppies tend to sleep 18-20 hours a day (when they do much of their growing) while senior dogs tend to sleep 15-18 hours a day. Both can become grumpier if they aren't getting enough sleep.

Pro Tip: Puppies can also get cranky when teething since they're uncomfortable while their mouths are in pain. Give your puppy safe chews made for puppies to help alleviate pain and reduce irritability.

In addition, it's common for dogs to become more irritable as they age. This is because they have less patience and tolerance for what they used to. For example, they often seem like they hate puppies, when they really just don't enjoy their rambunctious nature. It can also be from age-related health issues like canine cognitive dysfunction (dog dementia), arthritis and other pain, or loss of senses like hearing and sight. It's likely a good idea to get your older dog checked by a vet to rule out underlying health conditions.

Here are some of the most common reasons behind dog crankiness:

  1. Overtired, disturbed sleep or being woken up
  2. Boredom
  3. Not getting enough exercise
  4. Lack of attention
  5. Overstimulation (e.g. too much noise, activity, etc.)
  6. Anxiety
  7. Change in routine
  8. Overheated
  9. Pain
  10. Illness

Signs Your Dog Is Cranky

You can probably tell when your dog is cranky because they won't be acting like their normal self. That being said, there are specific signs you can watch out for:

  • Barking
  • Whining and crying
  • Snarling or baring teeth
  • Snapping, nipping and biting
  • Low growls, groans or warning noises
  • Possessiveness, resource guarding and territorial behaviors
  • Ignoring training commands, refusing to listen or forgetting manners (including potty training)
  • Being extra needy
  • Zoomies
  • Stiffened body and rigid back
  • Zero eye contact or direct stares
  • Yawning
  • Lip licking or closed mouth with tightened lips
  • Giving side eye ("whale eye") or widening the eyes, showing the whites of the eyes
  • Distance increasing behaviors, avoiding contact and changes in sociability
  • Being less affectionate or cuddly
  • Destroying, chewing and shaking toys and other items
  • Lowered head
  • Pinned back, low or hanging ears
  • Tucked tail

How to Help A Cranky Dog

If you want to help your cranky dog, you'll first need to determine what's behind the behavior. 

  • If your dog is tired - let them get sleep.
  • If your dog is bored or lacking exercise - give them some physical activity, mental stimulation and playtime.
  • If your dog is asking for attention - ignore their behavior so as not to reward irritability and condition them to be cranky when they want your attention.
  • If your dog is overstimulated or anxious - try to remove the stimulus or stressor (or remove the dog from it).
  • If your dog's routine has recently changed - try to keep as much of their life consistent and give them time to adjust to the new routine.
  • If your dog is overheated - bring them into a cool room, give them water or ice and help them cool down.
  • If it's pain or illness - take your dog to the vet, who will provide the proper solution (e.g. medication).
  • If your puppy is teething - provide lots of safe chews made for puppies and make sure they're getting enough sleep.

Sometimes, your dog may be irritable because of health issues. This could be the case if your dog has slept and exercised enough, you've provided attention and haven't changed their routine. Evolutionarily, dogs hide physical symptoms of pain but it can then manifest in more emotional ways - such as crankiness. In these instances, it's recommended you have your dog checked out by a vet to rule out any underlying injuries or health conditions.

If none of these work and your dog's health is in good condition, you may want to look into training. You can do it yourself, hire a professional behaviorist and trainer or go to training classes. Just make sure to always use positive reinforcement methods.

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