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My dog was in pain - and I almost missed it!

Updated: Feb 10

A few weeks ago Blue was in pain, and it was so subtle that I almost missed it at first!

In fact, pain is very easy to miss in animals - when I did research with the Animal Welfare Program at UBC I watched hundreds of (cow) videos to look for consistent signs of pain and it was SO difficult!

Seeing someone else's pain is also really difficult when it comes to humans, isn't it?

At least I can’t remember a time when someone saw my throbbing headache.

But it’s important that we do our best to recognize when our dogs are in pain.

Purely from a well-being perspective of course, who wants their dog to suffer after all.

Recognizing pain is also crucial from a behavior perspective - we know (aka research has shown) that pain can contribute to behavior “problems”, like aggressive behavior and reactivity. It’s actually one of the first things we try to rule out when helping your reactive dog.

Knowing that my dog is in pain also influences my training choices. If I know that my dog has a painful condition I won't ask for behaviors that could make that worse, I'll modify my training plan, and it helps me troubleshoot when my dog doesn’t respond to a cue as usual.

So how did I know that Blue was in pain?

After all, she was walking just fine outside! Had I just looked at her walking she would have seemed totally normal!

But let’s have a look at her walking up those stairs - she would usually run ahead, but instead took it step by step, being really reluctant to go all the way (after filming this I actually carried her).

She was also moving around a lot more then usual when trying to rest, and she had a twitch in her leg that isn't usually there.

I also noticed that

  • her tail was tucked when she greeted me (a tucked tail is something I’ve seen a lot with dogs who don’t feel well),

  • she stopped playful behaviors like rubbing herself along the couch, rolling outside

  • She clearly wanted to jump up on the bed but didn’t

Behavior change, posture change and body language indicators can be really subtle when it comes to pain and discomfort.

But they are the only way that your dog can tell you that they are not feeling great. And only because these changes are subtle doesn't mean that the pain isn't real or just minor. I would always take it seriously!

Dogs don’t usually whine or yelp when they’re in pain, especially with chronic pain (though they might on some occasions of acute pain).

What do you do when you think that YOUR dog is in pain?

My suggestion for you is this: If you see any subtle changes in your dog that just don’t seem quite right, consider that they might be sick or in pain.

Make a list of what you see, and I recommend that you take videos that you can share with your vet. As you've seen with Blue, some of her behavior changes would have been very easy to miss at a vet appointment, and while you can describe them your vet might get a better picture by actually seeing your dog.

Be forgiving when your dog doesn't listen, and don't insist! It's too easy to think that your dog is just being stubborn. When in reality they are just trying to avoid discomfort.

For example, some dogs with arthritis can have a hard time to transition into sits and downs and getting back up! So just don't ask for it unnecessarily.

And, of course, go see your vet so that your dog gets help.

In Blue's case, 2 days of pain medication were enough to get her through what I believe was a sore back (she had slipped on the ice a day before). In other cases your dog might need more help to recover - and your vet will be there to assist with that!

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