Pain affects all of us at some stage in our lives. It can be acute or chronic, come and go or be constant. It might only hurt when we do certain actions or over do things, like dig the garden.

What Painhaviour Is & Why I Think We Need to Create a New Word!

Pain is the reason we most often visit the doctors. It isn’t always obvious; watch ten people in the street and maybe eight will have some kind of pain but you can’t necessarily see it. Pain influences how we deal with the world around us: our tolerance levels, mood, ability to communicate well and energy levels. In short our behaviour often changes.

We can become noise intolerant, snappy with loved ones, hit out or push people away because we fear they will hurt us if they touch the sore area. However, we can talk about our pain, point to where it hurts and take matters into our own hands, seeking medical aid and getting medication.

But what if you can’t talk and are predisposed to hide your pain? How do you tell others where it hurts?

Simple, behaviour changes. For dogs, if the pain isn’t acute for example, I stepped on a piece of glass and cut my paw, they can have all manner of painhaviours we might miss.

These are just some of the symptoms I see regularly when working with dogs:

  • Breath, heart or pulse rate change
  • Furrowed brow
  • Hiding
  • Sleeping more
  • Restlessness
  • Not wanting to be touched in a certain area or not at all
  • Defensiveness around others of their species
  • Over grooming an area
  • Spasm/twitch in the skin or a hair change like a swirl or texture change
  • Holding themselves differently, i.e. looking tucked up in the abdomen or bearing less weight on one leg
  • Reluctance to get in the car or climb the stairs
  • Turning around quickly to look at an area of their body
  • Lack of appetite
  • Excessively stretching …

The list is endless. It is so interesting to me though, how many people miss pain as a route cause of behaviour in dogs. We simply don’t seem to be able to believe that dogs can feel discomfort like us.

Let’s look at an example. Your dog is in the park and while running about at full speed with his friends, slips over on a muddy patch of grass and somersaults before landing heavily. He gets up, shakes himself off and continues to play. That evening he is on the sofa and taking up too much room, you go to move him by taking hold of the collar, as you have done many times before, but this time he growls at you. Do you think, as I would, ‘Ah, he is sore from his fall in the park,’ or do you leap to the conclusion that he is being dominant or pushing his luck. For me, if this behaviour is out of the ordinary, then I would label it as painhaviour and treat accordingly. That is a simplistic example but one to get you thinking.

If you are working with a trainer and the issue could be pain based, the first port of call that they should send you to is your veterinary surgeon. This however can be problematic…

  1. If you have a hunch but no hard evidence that your dog is in pain and
  2. You turn up at the vets and your dog has a massive adrenalin hit which along with their predisposition to hide weakness, covers the few signs they may exhibit.

Unless you have information to tell the vet or video proof, it can be very difficult for them to pinpoint the cause.

Think needle in a hay stack. If I suspect a client’s dog of exhibiting painhaviour, I obverse the dog closely in a relaxed environment and note anything I see. This could be simple things like weight distribution on all four legs, quality of the coat over an area of the body, breath rate change if I touch the dog somewhere. I am not diagnosing the issue, merely giving hard facts of what I see which could help the vet to locate the problem.

I encourage the owner to video the dog in motion and in a stand, sit, and down and watch the transition from one to the other. I get them to note behaviour changes at home or on walks, anything and everything to isolate the problem so we can get a diagnoses. If all else fails and your vet cannot find a problem but you still suspect one, ask for a pain relief trial.

If your dog goes on painkillers, does the behaviour change?

You would be amazed at how many dogs have behaviour changes due to pain issues, it is my number one ‘go to’ if I see a dog with aggression or behaviour I can’t link to an external cause. So I am starting a campaign, let’s get the term painhaviour out there and save our dogs from needlessly suffering discomfort in silence.

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toni shelbourneToni Shelbourne

Toni Shelbourne has worked with domesticated and wild canids since 1989. After a long and successful career with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, she started her own business as a Tellington TTouch Companion Animal Practitioner. She is now one of the highest qualified Practitioners in the UK. In 2001 her skills in TTouch took Toni to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust were she meet a pack of socialised wolves. She went on to work with them for over a decade as a Senior Wolf Handler and Education Officer for the organisation.  Through observing the wolves she has a unique insight into their behaviour.  This led to her questioning the ingrained ideas about the alpha theory with dogs, ideas that were often in conflict with her own knowledge and observations. Today she advises wolf organisations and zoos on wolf behaviour and management. She teaches all over the UK and abroad, works with clients’ one to one, writes and runs workshops.

Over the last decade Toni has been developing her writing. She spent two years editing and writing features for Wolf Print, the UK Wolf Conservation Trust’s international magazine. She went on to write for national dog magazines, rescue society newsletters and websites. Her first and second book, The Truth about Wolves & Dogs, (Hubble and Hattie 2012) and Among the Wolves (Hubble and Hattie 2015) have been a great success. Her latest writing collaboration with author Karen Bush sees a series of books entitled Help… My Dog is. The first, Help…My Dog is Scared of Fireworks is available as an eBook or in paperback format and is an essential guide for the owners of noise phobic dogs. More titles are planned.

Visit for more details about Toni, TTouch and her books.
Twitter: @tonishelbourne

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