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The behavioural impact of physical issues - a case study

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

Put simply, taking a holistic approach means looking at the whole, and not just one part in isolation. This means looking not only at your dog's behaviour but also their physical and mental wellbeing. It is so easy to focus on one thing, particularly if you are having behavioural problems with your dog, but everything is interlinked, and cannot be fully resolved if you do not address the whole and my recent experience with Oliver is a great example of this.

You may already know that when I first adopted Oliver he used to be reactive to dogs. He is not a confident dog and can feel threatened by other dogs, particularly where he cannot move away from them. After having worked through these issues, I adopted my second dog, Harley, in May 2021.

I always knew that introducing another dog to the home would be a challenge for Oliver, particularly as Harley was a big, bouncy, adolescent Boxer. On top of this I had quite a few big and unexpected life changes in the following few months, which was not ideal and really affected him too. This meant that Oliver had a lot of change in his life and as a result it took quite a while for him to be fully comfortable around Harley. Given his history I will never leave them both loose when I go out, but they are now able to peacefully and comfortably co-exist.

However, in around November/December 2021 Oliver's behaviour started to deteriorate and he became really snappy at Harley. My instant thought was that he had regressed in his training and I wondered whether I had done something wrong introducing them and even questioned whether I should have even got another dog. I did everything right training wise, and gave him more structure and direction, but his behaviour still didn't improve which was very frustrating and disheartening.

But, he was also uncomfortable around other dogs in situations that he could usually handle and dogs that he was usually relaxed around. I noticed that he had started hopping every now and again on one of his back legs and that he was more grumpy with Harley after a walk than before, and so there were little signs that maybe he wasn't feeling so great physically. I put him on some supplements and rested him up in the hope that this would help, and then took him to the vets when this didn't seem to make a difference.

It was actually a relief when the vet told me that Oliver was very sore in his back because it explained why his behaviour had deteriorated. The vet did some x-rays which didn't show anything, and so we started with physiotherapy and hydrotherapy to strengthen Oliver's back end. He also periodically sees Amber and Tony for massage and osteopathic treatment. I'm still not certain as to how and why Oliver hurt himself, but I think he may have exacerbated an old injury from when he was a stray, and all of the change in the past few months probably hadn't helped him relax and heal.

Only after he has got better has it been clear how much his pain impacted on his behaviour. He is more relaxed with Harley than he has ever been and he is so much more comfortable even when in a big group of dogs. I can now appreciate how uncomfortable he must have been to have acted that way and feel awful that I thought it was all related to his reactivity. He still has ongoing treatment and regular check-ups to make sure any soreness doesn't creep back in, because I am very aware of how much his physical health impacted on his behaviour and I don't want it to happen again!

I learnt the hard way why it is so important to look at the whole picture, but it makes so much sense. If us humans have a headache or a sore back we are much more likely to be slightly grumpy and less tolerant of others, and the same applies for dogs. The only difference is that we can verbalise our symptoms and get them resolved, whereas dogs cannot. So here is your reminder to get your dog checked over if they have any new or worsened behavioural issues, or even if they don't show any issues at all. They could have so much more to offer!


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