As you become a better trainer and further your knowledge and chops in the training world you may want to start seeing behavioral cases. The one thing I learned to do very early on is to rule out anything medical first. There are so many illnesses that can masquerade as behavioral issues.
Take a moment and think about how you behave when you’re under the weather, have an ache, or pain in a bad knee. Are you fun to be around when you’re experiencing pain of any kind?
Medical Causes For Aggression In Dogs
Our dogs and our clients dogs can be incredibly stoic and muscle through certain aches and pains and feelings of malaise. But there are occasions when unwanted behavior appears because of not feeling well.
Thyroid Abnormality Based Aggression
Part of the endocrine system, the thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located in the neck, just below the larynx and partially wrapped around the trachea. It secretes two major hormones, thyroxine (T4) and, to a lesser degree, triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones play an important role in controlling metabolism, affect the heart, regulate cholesterol synthesis and degradation, and stimulate the development of red blood cells (erythropoiesis). Thyroid hormones are also essential for the normal growth and development of neurologic and skeletal systems, in addition to other roles.
Most dogs that suffer from hypothyroidism have what’s called autoimmune thyroiditis which can be hereditary. Sometimes the hypothyroid patients will have increased cortisol levels which can chemically mimic a constant state of stress. In this case, no amount of training will help! Typically, thyroid issues will fall into one of the following categories, aggression, extreme shyness, and seizure like activity.
Arthritis and Joint Pain & Aggression
We forget how quickly our beloved pups age and as the age they can develop aches and pains and arthritis, it’s important to get a proper arthritis diagnosis.
How does this present? A lot of times our dogs and client dogs will show disinterest in activities they used to enjoy such as running and jumping. Some dogs may start nipping or behaving more grumpy when touched or pet. Thank goodness that here are a lot of wonderful treatments available to provide relief to dogs. But stay informed and ask about the long-term and side effects of certain pain and anti-inflammatory medicines. The medicines available can provide great long-term comfort so they can get back into the swing of things.
Ear Infections & Aggression
Certain breeds have a predisposition but any dog can get an ear infection. This is generally painful for the pup when the infection gets out of hand, starting by a lot of itching and followed closely by inflammation and swelling. Some tell signs that your dealing with an ear infection can be head and face rubbing on walls and carpets and a “funky” yeasty smell coming from the ears.
Eliminate Medical Issues Before Treating The Dog’s Behavior
These are just a few of the many illnesses that can masquerade as a behavioral issue, by ruling out anything medical you can then formulate a behavior program for your clients dog.
For all of these “behavioral” issues a vet is needed. I will always offer to continue to work with the family to counter condition the pup to handling. Teaching families to do the handling and practice with mock vet visits will make vet visits more tolerable for the family and their dog.
I would love to hear of your experiences ruling out medical issues for behavior problems! What are some medical issues that you have found can trigger aggression in dogs?
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