Can dogs actually become depressed? Well, we know that dogs dream and dream therapy has been a psychological tool to get at the heart of the human subconscious and sort out repressed trauma that may be responsible for someone developing a case of clinical depression. So, either it is entirely possible for dogs to suffer depression, or dreams are entirely meaningless and dream therapy is just a bunch of hogwash; a scam perpetrated the mental health industry. Frankly, both conclusions make some sense. But anyone who has ever owned a dog can tell you that there occasions when the pet simply isn’t himself. He may not run to greet you at the door when you come home or he may not be interested in playing fetch, or he may just lay around in logy disinterest for days on end. If you’re dog has ever appeared lethargic for no apparently obvious medical reason, it could very well be a case of the doggie blues. Since your dog can’t explain his dreams to a psychologist, you can either put your faith in one of those dog whisperers, or you can take steps to keep him from riding high upon a deep depression.
Many times dogs will develop the blues from a related medical condition. If you notice a considerable difference in your animal’s normally sunny personality, the first thing to do is get him to the vet. There may be nothing physically wrong, but better safe than sorry. Should you find that there is nothing medical that might be affecting behavior, take a good long look at some other reasons that could be responsible? Have you cut down on the time you spend together? Have you banished him to the yard and out of the house? Did the neighbor’s dog die or move away? Even the death of a family member may be enough to bring on a bout of depression in your pet.
The first thing to do is set aside time every day to spend with your dog. And make sure it’s something fun and playful and will get him exercising. An active dog tends to be happier than one who simply sits around all day long doing nothing and receiving little in the way of stimulation. (This clearly does not apply to cats who seem to content to remain sleeping in the same place for hours at a time.) Dogs aren’t cats, however; they really crave excitement and even surprise. Instead of going on that same old walk around the block that you’ve taken your dog on every day for a year, head off in a new direction. Show them a different part of the neighborhood, let them sniff at new fire hydrants and trees.
It may sound insane, but if your dog has been suffering the blues for some time, throw him a surprise party. Invite your friends over and if they dogs that your dog gets along with, tell them to invite. Make your dog the center of this party and give him a really special treat to eat; maybe even a cake all his own. Just make sure it’s not chocolate cake because, as I hope you know, chocolate can kill a dog. Yes, I know, it probably sounds crazy, like one of those things that rich people with too much time and money do, but you don’t have to go crazy. You don’t even have to invite people. A party given in honor of you dog in which you and your family members pay serious attention to him may be just the thing to get him out of his funk.
In addition to making his life more full and exciting, it is also important to take the opposite tact. Do not give in to moping. If you start pampering a dog who is exhibiting signs of depression, the old Pavlovian response will begin to kick in. He will mistake this kind of attention for reward for bad behavior. That means when you deal with a depressed dog you do so in a way that is upbeat and that places demands and expectations upon the animal to behave similarly. Rather than letting a depressed dog lay in your lap for hours on end while you stroke him, force him to get up and play. Talk to him in a positive and upbeat fashion. Only reward the animal if he exhibits positive behavior like joining you in your fun or playfully licking your face.
Animal depression probably does exist, though there is no real way of authenticating it yet except through anecdotal evidence. Sometimes dogs just get hot or tired or simply don’t feel like doing things. Don’t confuse with extended periods of acting like someone who is down. Don’t force a dog to suddenly act happy if these occasions of depressed behavior are rare and pass quickly.