Why Is My Dog Suddenly Distant? – 8 Surprising Reasons Why

mood of dog

Sudden changes in behavior and demeanor can represent more than you would think when it comes to dogs. What might seem like a passing mood could signify a serious mental or physical issue.

If you have noticed that your canine companion is not showing you the same excitement and affection that they once did, we can help. To do so, we will highlight 8 of the most common reasons dogs become distant.

Rather than just worry about your furry friend, discover why your dog could be acting so distant. Some of the reasons might surprise you!

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8 Reasons Why Dogs Become Distant

While each dog is different, and the specific reason they are acting distant can vary, the following are some of the most common explanations for this sudden behavior change. 

Read through the following list and check for other symptoms that could point to a potential cause. As always, make sure you book an appointment with a veterinarian if you have concerns about your dog’s health or mental state.

1. Your Dog Is Suffering from Separation Anxiety 

One of the most prominent signs of canine anxiety is when a dog suddenly becomes distant. If your dog was once very social and enthusiastic but has suddenly begun avoiding you, there is a chance that something is triggering their anxiety.

Just like humans, dogs can suffer from chronic anxiety. While the anxiety can be environmental, meaning a specific trigger, like a loud noise, is causing them to feel anxious, canine anxiety can also have an underlying cause. 

For many dogs, separation anxiety is a significant issue. It often occurs when dogs not used to being alone are suddenly forced to go long stretches without company. The feeling of loneliness and abandonment can make the dog feel incredibly stressed and anxious, which explains why many dogs suffering from separation anxiety will display destructive behaviors when left alone.

For many households, pet owners returning to work after the COVID-19 pandemic triggered separation anxiety in their dogs. If your schedule has recently changed and you are now spending less time at home with your dog, their distance could be caused by separation anxiety.

Speak with your veterinarian about separation anxiety, as socialization classes and prescription medications can help treat a dog’s anxiety.

For more information, the American Kennel Club offers a valuable resource on canine anxiety – Understanding, Preventing, and Treating Dog Anxiety

2. The Dog Is Suffering from Physical Pain

Dog is suffering from physical pain

Since dogs cannot simply communicate the pain they are experiencing, they often display it through subtle behavioral changes.

Most dogs behave in a more withdrawn way when they are experiencing pain. If a new injury triggers the pain, it will make sense that your dog seemed to become distant without warning.

In senior dogs, pain can flare up without warning. Joint pain caused by arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other age-related issues could cause an old dog to become distant for a few days.

If you suspect your dog’s distant behavior is linked to pain, keep an eye out for other signs of injury, like limping, lethargy, whining, or refusing to eat. Even though the dog is distant, you can still attempt to inspect its body and mouth for signs of injury. However, it is also essential to recognize that the pain your dog is experiencing could be internal, so it would be more challenging to spot.

Taking your dog for a checkup is a good idea if you suspect pain is the reason for their sudden distant behavior.

3. The Dog Has Experienced a Traumatic Event

Dog has experienced a traumatic event

Just like humans, experiencing trauma can cause a dog to become more distant. When a dog experiences something that causes a significant fear response, they can begin to feel more guarded around people, including their owners.

A traumatic event could be linked to a severe injury, like getting hit by a car, or an event that caused them to mistrust humans, like physical abuse. Even attacks from other dogs can cause dogs to be more withdrawn.

Even if you did not witness a traumatic event, it does not mean it did not happen. Your dog might have even fallen down a set of stairs while they were home alone, which could be incredibly frightening.

If you suspect that fear and trauma are responsible for your dog’s recent changes in behavior, try to regain your dog’s trust gradually. Remember, plenty of positive reinforcement and patience is vital.

4. A Sudden Environmental Change Is Impacting Your Dog

environmental change is impacting the dog

Dogs are true creatures of habit. Most dogs will take a while to overcome sudden changes to their environment or routine.

If you have recently moved to a new house, it would not be surprising if your dog’s behavior was different following the move. That said, environmental changes do not need to be as drastic as moving to a new home. Even a significant home renovation could leave your dog feeling confused.

Changes in the environment can also include welcoming a new person or dog into the home. Many dogs will become more distant when their owners welcome home a new baby or even a new puppy. 

Sudden changes can stress a dog and make it feel like losing control over its perceived territory. If you suspect a change in environment is causing your dog to be more withdrawn, practice patience and allow the dog to adjust to the changes at its own pace.

5. You Have Begun Treating Your Dog Differently

In some cases, the reason why a dog has become distant is actually that the way their owner treats them has changed.

Have you recently taken on a more demanding work schedule that affords you less time with your canine companion? Is attention that was once solely given to your dog now being divided between them and a new dog? 

While your dog might just be one part of your life, you are almost the entire world for your dog. Slight changes in your behavior can significantly impact your dog’s mood. 

6. Your Dog Has a Digestive Issue

Signs of stomach pain in dogs

Like humans, dogs get upset stomachs resulting from something as minor as eating something rotten from the garbage, or it could be as severe as stomach cancer.

Withdrawn behavior is one of the most common symptoms of discomfort caused by digestive system issues. You might also notice other signs of stomach pain, like a refusal to eat, general lethargy, ongoing diarrhea, and whining.

Since digestive system issues can range in severity from passing discomfort to life-threatening, it is crucial to take your dog to a veterinarian if the problem has not been resolved within 24 hours. 

7. Your Dog Is Reacting to a Prescription Medication

Dog is reacting to a prescription medication

Prescription medications can cause a wide range of unintended side effects. Since dogs cannot simply explain their feelings, it is vital to monitor their behavior whenever they are on a new prescription drug.

If your dog has recently been put on any medication, there is an excellent chance that their sudden distant behavior is linked. While the side effects of many common prescription medications dogs are put on are worth the overall benefits, they can still make your dog feel a bit off.

If your dog is feeling strange due to a prescription medication they are on, they might display other symptoms alongside being withdrawn. These could include lethargy, insomnia, increased thirst, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

If you have noticed these side effects, report them to your veterinarian. If the side effects severely impact your dog’s quality of life, the veterinarian might recommend trying out a different type of medication.

For more information, consider reading PetMD’s informative guide – 7 Common Side Effects of Pet Medications.

8. Your Dog Is Suffering from the Early Stages of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

canine cognitive dysfunction

Unfortunately, many dogs suffer from cognitive decline as they enter their senior life stage. If you have an elderly dog suddenly becoming more distant, it may be suffering from the early stages of canine cognitive dysfunction.

Canine cognitive dysfunction, or CCD, is a type of dementia linked to aging. While the initial symptoms can be mild, they worsen over time. The condition can impact a dog’s memory and spatial awareness.

Sadly, dogs also become more distant when they suffer from CCD, becoming confused around people and other dogs. Other signs of CCD can include the following:

  • General confusion
  • Irritability
  • Excessive licking and scratching 
  • Incontinence 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia 
  • Anti-social behavior 

While there is no cure, your veterinarian will be able to discuss ways to improve your dog’s quality of life if they are suffering from CCD. As with most health issues, an early diagnosis will give you the best chance of ensuring your dog lives out the remainder of its life as happy and healthy as possible.

We published a more comprehensive article on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) if you want more information on the subject.

PetMD also has an informative CCD guide worth reading – Dog Dementia – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Life Expectancy.