Monday, 11 March 2019

What’s pain got to do with it?

Pounding, throbbing pain.

Vision blurring.

Nausea rising as the bones in your skull try to separate.

Imagine feeling like that as you stand in the queue at the supermarket. And then someone crashes their trolley into you (by accident).

There’s a good chance that the words that would spill from your mouth might not be the most polite things you’ve ever said. Because when we are in pain, our tolerance goes down, we are more easily frustrated, we are more likely to lash out, and frankly everything just feels worse than normal.

But you would be able to explain to the person that you were sorry for overreacting, it’s just that right now you have a really bad headache.

Our animals don’t have that as an option.

In fact, by the time we notice that they might be in pain, things are often pretty bad. One of the first signs that our pets might be experiencing pain is often a change in their behaviour. It could be an increase in sensitivity to loud noises, or it might be your pet becoming grumpy when you ask them to move off the sofa.

Last week, I saw a lovely little beagle for a review meeting. Samson (not his real name) had completed a set of puppy visits at home some years earlier. Samson was a cheerful and friendly little dog, a real delight to work with. So, when his owners got in touch to say that he was reluctant on walks, didn’t seem to be excited to greet his family when they came home, and had started to lunge and nip at passing joggers….

There are lots of training and behaviour interventions that we might use in situations like this. For example, we might look at ways to increase interest and excitement on walks and we might start to pair up seeing joggers with getting delicious treats.

But before we jump into trying to change what the animal is doing, it’s important to check why this might be happening in the first place. Usually, this means thinking about how the animal is feeling as well as how the animal is behaving. And when there is a sudden change in behaviour especially involving apparent aggression, we always want to rule out physical problems as a contributing factor.

When I met Samson at our training venue, I had the chance to pet him as normal while I chatted to his dad. I noticed that Samson was less comfortable with being handled than he used to be, and there was some trembling in one of his back legs. So, Samson’s dad went away with a wee plan to help keep Samson safe for now while we arranged for a very thorough vet check.

It turns out that Samson was it was suffering from a very low thyroid level as well as a nasty ear infection. Both of those conditions are now being treated, and we’ve noticed a big change in Samson’s behaviour in all situations. Samson’s family still has some training to do to help make sure that Samson doesn’t carry on being worried about joggers, but we now know that the underlying painful condition is getting better.

This is just one of the reasons why professional behaviourists work on veterinary referral to ensure that your dog has no medical issues contributing to a behaviour problem. We don’t want you to waste your time trying to change a behaviour problem that has a medical cause. Medical issues which can contribute to behaviour issues range from abscesses, joint pain, thyroid imbalances, skin problems and neurological issues.

If you’re reading this and you've noticed a marked or sudden change in your dog’s behaviour, the first port of call should be a good chat with your vet. Then you will want to seek referral to a Clinical Animal Behaviourist - you can easily find these listed on the ABTC website.

Physical problems and pain don’t always underlay problem behaviours, but it’s really important that we rule them out before we dive into a training solution.

Morag Heirs PhD, Clinical Animal Behaviourist

Well Connected Canine Ltd

What’s on at Well Connected Canine in York?

New 5 week class blocks starting on Mon 8th and Wed 10th April covering sports foundation skills, good companion obedience, sniffing school, parkour AND bodywork plus relaxation.

You can see the full programme here:
grab a weekly class!
And if you’re not sure what’s right for your dog just email me to chat it through (

Or if you’d rather opt for a short, sharp focused set of lessons, why not try a three week intensive to concentrate on nice walking (Stay By My Side), coming back (Baby Come Back), and polite behaviour (Mind Your Manners).

These have been really popular so make sure to book on early or you might miss your chance!

3 week intensives here

Want to try out a new sport, or dip your toes into breed specific training?

Why not check out our evening Taster Workshops


Or half day workshops (Gun Dog Games or That’s Not A Sheep – for herding breeds)

*and if you haven't already gotten the Tina Turner song as an earworm, just click here: 

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