Medicine and Behavior: The two go hand in hand

Puppy’s brain melted!

Every so often I meet clients who believe that their dog is “stubborn” or has “selective hearing” when given cues. Sometimes the issue is lack of training, which I addressed in a previous blog: here! Occasionally there is also an underlying medical issue that also contributes to the “selective hearing” process. Since your dog can not tell you that something hurts, or that a task is too difficult, we just have to use our context clues to figure it out. Thankfully, your dog has both you and me to help navigate those areas of uncertainty between you and your vet. Let’s explore some of the routine areas where I ask the vet to get involved in training.

Pain
This is the number one most discussed trip to the vet. Dog suddenly doesn’t want to be picked up or petted? Sudden snarkiness with other dogs, in an otherwise friendly individual? Dogs reluctant to sit or stand from a down position? A dog that is throwing their weight around when asked to sit?

I start all these with a vet visit to discuss some pain management. Dogs are incredibly stoic and will not show outward signs of pain until they feel really bad. (Ask anyone with a sport dog!)

There are many different pain management options these days, and many of those options are safer than they have been in the past for long term use. There are also different options depending on your dogs medical history. I keep a stash of Deramaxx in my house for those days when my pups worked too hard and just need a doggy ibuprofen. When Scooter (my big dachshund) got old, he was on 3 different pain medications to make sure he could still go up and down the stairs daily. Discuss these options with your vet to find the right one for your pup.

Impaired Vision, hearing
This one is hard to diagnose in dogs because they can’t tell you if they can’t see their periphery or can’t hear those high pitched sounds. Usually, these clients come to me with wild rambunctious puppies or adolescents that just can’t seem to figure out what is being asked. I usually get to tell them that what they are experiencing is not normal At that point I can give them ways to adjust their lifestyle to help their dog be successful. I get to see lots of normal puppies so I can pick out “not normal” pretty quickly. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do for lack of vision or hearing in dogs except to have it confirmed by the vet and adjust how you interact with your pup. Thankfully, dogs are fairly resilient and figure out how to live with an impairment just fine. As an owner, you need to remember that your dog can’t see you when you call him to you!

Aggression and Separation Anxiety

He got up there all by himself!

I can go down a rabbit hole with this one but I will try to keep it on track. Sudden onset aggression, or behavior that is deteriorating instead of getting better might require some prescription help to allow the client to meet the goals that they have for their dog. Just to be clear, medication does not fix the problem, but can allow the dog to be in a better brain space to learn what is being taught. Anti-anxiety medications in dogs also need to be used with a behavior modification plan and have a plan to wean the dog off the medication. Some dogs do better on medications for the rest of their lives, but most dogs can be successfully taken off medication at some point.

And at the end of it all, be your dog’s advocate. If your vet doesn’t believe you or won’t listen to your concerns, then find a new vet! You are the one who is responsible for keeping your dog happy and healthy! Take a few moments to  listen to what your dog is telling you when they ‘can’t’ comply with what you are asking.

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