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All too often we can see some challenging behaviours in dogs as irritating and difficult to live with. This can lead us to trying to address the behaviour in the best way we can, which is almost exclusively based on the notion that the behaviour itself is the problem – but is it?

I have seen a growing increase in the number of cases where underlying, undiagnosed pain is the cause or a major contributing factor to problematic behaviours in dogs. Quite often owners and other canine professionals are unaware just how something small can impact heavily on the animal. Dogs can be stoic and hide discomfort well, showing no obvious signs of pain such as limping or whining. Most of the dogs I work with have had issues right from puppyhood and are often deemed quirky, reactive, unpredictable or anxious, but in my experience, there is almost always an underlying health issue lurking in the background whether it’s muscular or something more.

Some behaviours may include;

  • Hyperactivity or inability to settle.
  • Reactive to people or dogs.
  • Touch or grooming avoidance.
  • Aversion to walking equipment such as harness, collar or lead.
  • Sound sensitivity.
  • Resource guarding

Having an underpinning knowledge in both behaviour and the way the canine body moves and functions means I am better able to pinpoint where potential issues are and work in conjunction with vets to help remove pain or discomfort from the equation before working with the dog and guardian to find ways to overcome their issues.

Some other signs your dog may be struggling are;

  • Unusual posture
  • Stiff to rise or move.
  • Bunny hopping after shake-off
  • Inability to stay in one position (shuffling/weight shifting)
  • Hopping up/down stairs or over door thresholds
  • Uneven muscle symmetry.
  • Favouring one side to sit or lie down.

Chronic, long term, pain doesn’t disappear overnight, and all too often the behaviour that the dog has well practised as a way of coping is so deeply ingrained that it can take time to strip back the layers in order for the dog to move passed its emotional and physical constraints. Using choice led therapies and techniques such as Animal Centred Education (ACE) that give the choice back to the dog are critical in helping these dogs move forwards.

ACE free work features heavily in both my assessments and ongoing behavioural therapy with dogs. Allowing them to move freely (if safe to do so) over different surfaces and textures without being influenced by equipment or handler, busy dogs slow down, clumsy dogs become more mindful, tension leaves the body and the dog is then able to think. It opens doors for dogs that have felt there is only one way to react and it is incredibly enlightening to the guardian when they see their dog making more informed, sensible choices.

You can take a look at one of the dogs I work with by watching this FREE webinar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLV5AlyGOtc&t=7s

Gemma Hodson, has over 30 years knowledge of the canine species, holding a diploma in canine behaviour with the International School of Canine Psychology & Behaviour, graduated canine remedial massage & rehabilitation with distinction with the OCN London, is a TTouch Practitioner P2 and now holds ACE Advanced Tutor status, awarded to her by International Behaviour Counsellor – Sarah Fisher, and is part of the teaching team at Tilley Farm helping to educate canine guardians and their four legged friends.