Helping Dogs deal with Fireworks | Saturday 20th October | Centre Paws, Wymondham, Norfolk
3rd October 2018
Who’s fault is it anyway??
24th November 2018

Before I studied as a dog trainer, I was lucky enough to work as a groom on a rescue and rehab yard with horses.

Around 80% of those horses were unworkable due to conformational faults and muscular skeletal issues.

When horses were exercised we were taught to look at gait irregularities, muscle tone, to look at the horses behaviour in relation to its work.

Is it finding something hard? Why is it not able to do what is being asked of it? Why is a horse behaving in a way that is perhaps dangerous? Bucking, rearing, bolting?  The first thing that was done was to rule out pain. The horse would see the vet, the dentist, the physio and a saddle fitter and 99% of the time pain was a contributing factor in the horses behaviour.

It is common advice now in the equine world that if your horses behaviour changes you get it checked by various professionals for signs of pain. So why is this advice so less commonly given in our dogs?


Yes there are many causes of dog reactivity, including genetics, past experience, lack of socialisation however pain is something that we need to make sure has been thoroughly addressed.
Before I see a dog for a reactivity or aggression issue I always request a thorough vet check and preferably a check from a canine body worker (I highly recommend Claire Lawrence, McTimoney Therapist) and the results quite frankly speak for themselves.

Hip and elbow issues are always common. I’ve seen dogs with bilateral hip and elbow dysplasia who actually never showed any outward signs of lameness to the untrained eye. Misalignments and sore muscles are always common, arthritis, Deep seated ear infections, bladder infections, digestive issues and fairly recently a bone infection are all ailments that have contributed significantly to the behaviour of many dogs I have seen.

Once the pain related issue was resolved or managed, the dogs behaviour improve or it might just be that the dog is then in a more suitable position to learn. We know ourselves that if we are feeling unwell or in pain trying to learn a new skill is sometimes hard, if not impossible.

We also need to look at the changes in relationships that happen between our pets that share the same household and what can happen as dogs get older.

Something I have come up against when dealing with aggression between dogs in the same household is that the owner believes what may be happening is that the younger dog is looking to take the position of pack leader as the older dogs health is now failing. However it has been well documented by scientists that dogs do not form packs. What I have seen though is that the older dog, with muscular skeletal issues now cannot move as fast, or perhaps has failing eye sight and are firstly failing to pick up on the body language of the younger dog, that perhaps space is needed and secondly that they cannot move away from the other dog fast enough for the younger dog to feel comfortable.

A few years ago I had a trainer tell me with great pride that she had gone to see a dog that was resource guarding a sofa and she had got a broom and hit it as hard as possible, because she felt that the motive behind the dogs behaviour was that it wanted to dominate its owner. The training method and methodology alone is enough to make anyone wince, but something else that really made me wince was the fact that my own dog appeared to resource guard the sofa, but upon further investigation it actually transpired that she had fused vertebrae and any movement under her as she lay was causing her a great deal of pain.

I myself have scoliosis. I suffer with back and neck pain, most people don’t know this, because I carry on as normal and they haven’t asked (why would they?) however when it’s bad I am grumpy as is anyone and of course I am more irritable. We need to expect the same of our dogs and if there is a behaviour change the first thing we should do is book an appointment with a vet and start the investigation and ask the question ‘Are you in pain?’ And do bare in mind that a vet may not be able to pick up on muscular skeletal issues, plus going to the vet can cause a dogs adrenaline levels to rise, which may disguise any pain, so ask for that referral to a canine body worker.

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