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Pain often the unsuspected cause of dog aggression

Updated: Feb 15

Is your dog afraid of loud noises? Is your dog becoming increasingly grumpy, particularly in the evening? Does your dog have a Jekyll and Hyde personality, often affectionate but sometimes seeming to snap out of the blue? Are they restless, finding it hard to settle or chewing or licking more?

Did you know that these are all symptoms which are common in dogs who are experiencing pain?

A study which looked at dogs who were receiving help for problem behaviour from a veterinary behaviourist found that pain was a contributing factor in as many as 80% of cases. Hips, knees, spine and gastrointestinal problems were cited as some of the most common sources of pain.

This is why if you engage a qualified trainer to help you with a behaviour problem you should expect them to want to engage your vet to investigate potential sources of pain, even if only to rule it out.

How can my dog be in pain if he still loves his walks?

When dogs are running around or doing something they enjoy, their brains are producing lots of feel-good chemicals which help mask pain and distract them from discomfort.

Think of an occasion when you’ve overdone it, sport, gardening, a longer than usual walk. Can you remember wincing that evening or the next day and thinking to yourself “shouldn’t have done that!” even though you felt fine at the time?

Dogs who are showing aggression in the evenings are often feeling pain following the fun they had earlier.

The vet said no pain found, that my dog's aggression is behavioural

Aggression is symptom not a diagnosis. Think back to the last time you snapped at someone, would it be accurate to say you have a behaviour problem? Or is it fairer to say you snapped because perhaps at that moment you were feeling tired, fearful, anxious, or unwell?

Pain can be difficult to diagnose in the short amount of time vets have. When it comes to long standing pain, dogs, like us, will have good days and bad days, adrenaline (produced when they’re stressed) will mask pain and stoic characters like terriers have a high pain threshold. This means they might not show signs of pain until there is serious damage.

The more information you can give your vet, the easier it is for them to find out if your dog is in pain.

Start by cutting back on exercise. If your dog usually chases balls, hide them instead of throwing them so they have to use their nose. If your dog usually has 2 walks a day, replace one with enrichment activities such as hiding their dinner round the garden. Brain exercise from using their nose will tire your dog out more productively than pure physical exercise.

Keep a diary and make a note of any changes in behaviour for example reductions in the number or intensity of behaviour incidents.

Use your phone to record short videos of your dog from different angles which will help identify any red flags such as bunny hopping or waddling.

Behaviour can be complex and there’s often a combination of factors at play, not just one. When you ask me for help with a behaviour problem It’s a case of putting all the pieces together, like a jigsaw puzzle.

If you'd like to talk to me about your little rascal, book a free 20 minute discovery call via the booking calendar

Jack Russell Terrier with silent pain

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