Are Your Dog’s Problem Behaviours Actually Signs of Discomfort?

This cartoon from the brilliant “Off the Leash” (Rupert Fawcett) always makes me wince a little.  It’s amusing, for sure, and all too familiar to many dog owners.

However, it’s something close to my heart at the moment as my Harry gets on in years. Let me explain why.

Due to the restrictions imposed on vets (for totally understandable reasons) during the COVID 19 pandemic, my Harry hasn’t been able to receive his regular acupuncture and massage treatments.  In spite of having very bad arthritis in his front feet, and consequently walking in a way equivalent to us hunching our shoulders up around our ears (try it, it’s really not comfortable!) he is remarkably fit and agile and happy for his age.

Harry is very, very sensitive to the usual “first line” pain medications prescribed by vets – let’s just say they have a nasty effect on his guts, in case you are eating as you read this!  This and the fact that I’m lucky to work with some fantastic holistic vets and skilled body workers lead me to explore other options to keep him comfortable as he ages.

The combination of acupuncture (from the wonderful Lindsay Brazil of Cotswold Veterinary Acupuncture) and massage therapy (from the amazing Gemma Hodson of All About the Dog Therapy) along with an unprocessed, species appropriate diet and gentle exercise mean that Harry is going strong at 16ish.  You can see Lindsay treating him on her website.

What’s all this got to do with the cartoon?

Well, because Harry has only had my own rudimentary massage in the past few months, he is getting stiff.  How do I know this?  Because he is performing EXACTLY like in the cartoon.  He’s not doing it for fun, though, he’s doing it because “poo position” is uncomfortable and difficult for him.  Rest assured that steps are in place to help him with this, and I’m hoping that the lovely new acupuncture vet near where we now live will be able to visit us very soon and help him to be easier in his old body again.

How Do I know if My Dog’s Behaviour is Really a Health Problem?

Very often, our dogs carry out behaviours that we perhaps don’t consider important and maybe even find annoying (I’m not going to lie, it’s inconvenient poo hunting in the garden much easier to pick up one pile in one place!).  It’s really important to consider why the behaviour is happening, and if there is something we can do to address it.  Dogs are very stoical (in nature, showing weakness is not a good plan) and hide pain very successfully.  It’s up to us to spot it and address it in the best way we can.

In my work, I very often see dogs who are in discomfort or worse, unbeknownst to their guardian and until that discomfort is alleviated, it isn’t fair to start to address problem behaviours.  This is where teamwork is so important. Your first opinion vet, a vet trained in the use of herbs, a vet trained in the use of homoeopathy, a vet trained in acupuncture, a great osteopath, physio, Bowen therapist, Galen therapist, musculoskeletal rehab therapist, all will be able to offer something to help and a coordinated approach will bring the best possible benefit.  That’s why I love working with my holistic vet colleagues, they have so very much to offer. (Of course, you won’t necessarily need all of these approaches, different dogs will respond well to different treatments, just like us!)

If you’re now worrying about your dog, this is an excellent resource for learning about signs of pain.  If you even suspect your dog may be uncomfortable, please take action sooner rather than later, so they can, in the words of Isla Fishburn, have a health span equal to their lifespan.