Could your dog’s undesirable behaviour be influenced by pain?
As a trainer who works in the field of behaviour, having the skills to assess when a dog’s in pain is really important. Why? Because pain is a significant driver of some behaviour…
Take me for example; I suffer from chronic neck pain. If you came to see me as a client at my work on a day where I was suffering neck pain, you would probably not pick up on my subtle signs of discomfort… however if you LIVE with me on a day where I have pain by goodness you’ll know about it! You see that’s the thing about being a human, generally we tell others close to us about our pain; how bad it is, how long it’s been there… we tend to wear our pain on our sleeve because we often get a bit of sympathy from other humans. In the human world pain is not a sign of weakness.
Dogs, however are REALLY different! In the dogs world pain is a sign of weakness. I know this sounds awful, however it is important to remember that although we love them dearly, dogs are still animals … and animals aren’t quite as sympathetic or empathetic as we humans are.
In the dog world many dogs mask their pain. So it is really important that we notice when our dogs are in pain, however sometimes picking up when your dog is in pain is not that easy! Take me again for example; if my neck hurts on the right side then I tend to favour this side by leaning my head slightly to the right, rubbing the area, trying to stretch it out … these signs can be quite obvious to see. However if the pain in my neck is on both sides (bilateral) then these signs are far more difficult to pick up on; I will keep my neck straighter and maintain better posture, maybe turn my head from side to side, etc.
If an animal masks pain, then how do we know if it actually may be in pain?
Often there is a change in the animal’s behaviour;
• Their reaction to or interactions with other dogs may change:
– They become more spatially aware;
– Their tolerance towards other dog reduces.
• They may become touch sensitive around certain areas; twitch, move away, growl, snap, etc. when touched;
• There may be a change in their tolerance for exercise; sit or lay down when on a walk, shy away from having their lead or harness put on;
• There may be a change in the dog’s ability to settle; the dog may not lay down as much as it used to, or becomes more fidgety;
• When the dog is comfortable on the couch or bed it does not want to move; may growl or snap;
• The dog may lick or show more attention to certain areas of their body;
• The dog may find it more difficult to lay down or get up.
What can we do?
Your vet is your local dog expert and can help identify and manage pain in your pet. Our dogs have strong instincts to hide pain until its overwhelming so being proactive is the key! If you are unsure about pain in your dog take the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Managements Survey. Click Here