When our dogs do things that we wish they wouldn’t most people want to focus on stopping the behaviour. This is a really short term view though. If we don’t address why the dog is doing it you aren’t actually getting to the route of the problem.
How we work:
We don’t try to suppress behaviours we don’t like. Instead we try to change how dogs feel in the situation. Emotions control behaviour just like with humans. If you’re scared or frustrated you will act out in ways you wouldn’t if you were happy and relaxed.
But did you know that the primary course (in potentially up to 80% of behaviour cases!) can be pain?
How pain affects behaviour
If you’re in pain, especially chronic pain such as tooth ache, ear ache, or joint pain then there is a good chance you will have been grouchy.
Dogs are just the same. If they are in pain they are more likely to display unwanted behaviours.
But more than that they are also much more likely to learn negative associations. If they are having an interaction and that triggers off their pain, they will learn that that interaction = pain. This can cause a negative association with whatever they were interacting with. Usually other dogs, kids and new people.
But my dog doesn’t look sore!
It’s one of the most common feedback we get when we suggest pain may be influencing behaviour. But chronic pain can be really difficult to spot. Even for vets!
Canine Arthritis Management (CAM) have some great resources for learning more about pain, and monitoring your dog.
Arthritis isn’t just for old dogs. Up to 35% of dogs have been shown to have arthritis before the age of one year! And at least 80% of dogs over the age of 8.
Dogs are suffering in silence and only showing us by changing their behaviour.
Chronic long term pain is completely different to the acute, sudden pain such as if you stand on your dog’s foot and they yelp! That’s like comparing how you react you stubbing your toe and ongoing arthritis. We yelp and cry with sudden onset pain. With ongoing pain we grumble but have to get on with our lives. Dogs are just the same, so they often don’t look obviously sore or in pain.
What can I do?
Check out CAM and get some recordings of your dog. If you have any suspicions that your dog is in pain talk to your vet.
If there is pain present then no amount of behavioural modification will change their behaviour unless you remove the pain.
Even once the pain is managed most dogs need some help to unlearn all the negative associations formed when they were in pain.
It’s really common to feel guilty, or deny that your dog could be in pain. It is so easy to miss it really isn’t anyone’s fault, but pretending it isn’t happening doesn’t help your dog or help to change their behaviour.
So any time you see more unwanted behaviour from your dog just question – could they be hurting?