Sometimes behavioral challenges can be at least partly based in medical issues. During sweet Tulsa’s assessment, Randi heard lots of warning flags that her aggression toward the other dog in the home could be at least partially based in pain. A trip to the vet with our accompanying observations confirmed that suspicion.
Tulsa’s family was worried that she had started being aggressive toward their other dog, Lilly. Sometimes scuffles are unavoidable, though if it is happening regularly, it’s best to jump on it quickly before it escalates. Dog on dog aggression can get serious. Through observation and discussion with Tulsa’s family during the assessment, Randi observed the following.
- Tulsa was going after Lilly 10-12 times per day
- Tulsa and Lilly used to play but had stopped
- Tulsa was on medication for arthritis pain
- Tulsa had recently become reluctant to jump on the bed
We provided Tulsa’s veterinarian with these behavioral observations. Based on that, the veterinarian re-examined Tulsa and diagnosed additional arthritis and changed her medications. With these new medications onboard, Tulsa’s “grumpiness” and reactions toward Lily decreased in a big way. Tulsa had not wanted Lilly near her because being jostled or bumped hurt!
After Tulsa’s medications were changed, her aggressive reactions toward Lilly decreased to 1-2 per day. We started behavioral training to address the remaining reactions. But again, Tulsa’s responses were atypical. She was not responding to training the way most dogs would. For example, when Randi worked with her, Tulsa didn’t want to get up to get a treat after settling on a mat. This reluctance to moving is not usual for a dog who loves food!
There was still a problem. Armed with the additional information about Tulsa’s behavior, the client’s veterinarian prescribed a new medication. We took a break from training while Tulsa’s people worked on managing her pain.
Pain can contribute to so many behavior problems. With dogs, it can also be at the root of elimination or house training problems, changes in eating and drinking, and avoidance of certain areas of the house. Even sound phobias and separation disorders sometimes correlate with pain. And when we think about it, we can understand how it can cause reactivity and aggression. We humans are not at our best when in pain either!
If your dog’s behavioral challenges are rooted in a medical condition, no amount of training or behavior modification will provide lasting change. Behavior and medical conditions are intertwined, and often, just training an obedience behavior won’t help address your dog’s behavior challenge. The link between behavior and medical is why we have a veterinarian on our strategic board, and why we work collaboratively with our clients’ veterinarians, as well as keep up with the scientific literature surrounding physiology, biology, and behavior.