Episode 46: Pain and Behavior with Ursa Acree

Marissa MartinoPaws & Reward Podcast


In episode 46 of the Paws & Reward Podcast, I am joined by Ursa Acree as we talk about pain in dogs and how that can contribute to their behavior concerns. Many times, a dog in pain does not display obvious pain-related behaviors, such as limping or whining. So how can you support your dog in pain and know when to approach a veterinarian? What are some warning signs? Watch our conversation on my YouTube Channel.   

How can a dog in pain make different behavior choices?

Since many dogs in pain often do not show outward signs, it can be easily missed by pet parents and even trainers and behavior consultants. Not only can pain contribute to behavior issues, it can also become a quality of life issue. No one should have to live with chronic pain.

We know that pain affects our own behavior and can influence how we approach problems or difficult situations. We may be able to do many things physically, even with pain, but as stress builds we can become less and less tolerant of our environment. The same can also happen with your dog in pain.

Especially with chronic pain, even a small amount over long periods of time can make a big impact on behavior. Fuses become shorter and triggers may seem more intense. As our dogs spend energy making accommodations for their pain, their reactivity or sensitivity (to touch or the environment) can increase at an alarming rate.


Why is it important to address a dog in pain before working on training solutions?

Physical pain is one vital piece to the puzzle of your dog’s behavior. It might not be affecting your dog’s behavior in the way we expect, but it’s still important to investigate. Without addressing pain first, training solutions may not have much of an effect on the behavior issue, and/or it could make things worse. If part of the training plan is more exercise and that exacerbates the pain, then the behavior will only get worse, or manifest in new ways, rather than improving.

Is my dog in pain? And, how can I determine if it’s a factor in their behavior?

Your dog in pain may still be very physically active and social. However, here are some things to look out for:

  • Sudden onset of signs of aggression or threat displays in certain situations.
  • Slows down after walks or other physical activities.
  • Lethargic and has low energy. I would be especially concerned about a dog in pain if they are young.
  • Changes in physical activities, less tolerance of physical exercise.  
  • Avoids certain bodily positions, sits or lays down in a strange way.
  • Sensitive to heat or cold.
  • Flinching, yelping, or becoming tense (holding their breath) when touched in certain ways.
  • Whipping their heads or even placing their mouth on your hand when you touch them.
  • Something “feels off” to you – listen to your instincts! You know your dog best. 

You are your dog’s number one advocate. If you feel something is wrong with your dog or their behavior suddenly changes, seek out a veterinarian familiar with behavior to assess whether or not pain is a factor. It can make a world of difference, but it can take time for our dogs to overcome pain in addition to the memory of pain. Be patient and remember that progress isn’t linear.

Where to find Ursa Acree:

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