So often dogs like Jake are labelled as ‘nasty’, ‘aggressive’, ‘grumpy’ or ‘dominant’. It is assumed they are purposefully exhibiting these behaviours because they are trying to ‘control’ people or their environment and in a way that is true, but the motivation is not what people assume. They are trying to control things, but not in a domineering or belligerent way. They are trying to control the people and things around them to protect themselves, so they don’t get hurt or feel unsafe. When they growl they are trying to convey their level of concern and worry to you about the situation they are currently in. How else could they tell you they don’t want you to do something they fear?
I was fairly certain as soon as I heard about Jake that he had a pain issue and my advice was to check for physical problems. After x-rays it became apparent that his hips were in shockingly bad shape, especially his right one. It was no wonder he had been ‘misbehaving’ and amazing how active he was. So how was that missed when it was so advanced as a physical problem?
It’s actually really understandable.
Dogs are truly amazing creatures when it comes to compensating for a pain issue. Often you only clearly see the clinical signs of lameness when they have been struggling for a while. They have four legs and so, unlike us, they can shift their weight and movement to the ‘good’ legs and keep going fairly well. Sometimes for many years! Jake had likely had the problem from being a very young dog, so really you have to applaud the fact that he never did anyone serious harm and was so eager to get up and go every day.
He had been guarding the top of the stairs probably because he had been told to go down them by the previous owner. Going down stairs would be painful for him and made worse by the fact that his previous owner might have got frustrated with him ‘not obeying’ the command to go down them because he was being ‘stubborn’. Then he is forced into a painful situation with an angry human close behind him hurrying him up!
He was guarding the sofa for the same reason. When he was told to get off immediately it meant getting to his feet and jumping down. Again, this would be painful and with the angry human assuming he was stubbornly refusing, and getting more and more insistent, it was a doubly uncomfortable situation.
He growled and was unpredictable because, depending on how bad the pain in his hips was that day, he would be less willing to have his hips or back roughly stroked in play or affection because it hurt. That didn’t mean he didn’t like the person trying to be affectionate with him. You may love your partner but if you have a severe migraine and they playfully ruffle your hair or ask you to get up and help them with something, you are likely to not be very friendly if you refuse and they insist you do it and try to pull you out of the chair!
Jake now lives with me because I understand him and as a physio and behaviourist I can see when he has a good day or bad day. He still gets a lot out of life and his pain is carefully managed now, as is his exercise. To see him doing the zoomies around the garden most people wouldn’t be aware he has any issues, (and its not something I encourage him to do, given his problems!). However, there are other more subtle signs if you know what to look for.
So, how as a physio have I helped Jake?