I am the owner of a 5-1/2 year old chocolate lab. A couple of months ago she went from a dog who loved to go for long walks to a dog who cringes every time I mention the word walk. The only way at this point I can get her to exercise is the take her for runs at secluded places, or driving to some place and then walking from there. She has no problem doing this as she loves car rides. Can you please help? -Bev
When dogs 3 years or older suddenly change behaviour it’s typically for one reason, an undiagnosed health problem. The second possibility is that some sort of physiological trauma but it’s pretty unusual for a dog to take something that hard at that age and not be able to get past it to do something normally joyous. The exception is if the dog has been a life long worry wart and is easily upset. Early in life symptoms are not as dramatic, they magnify as the dog matures and the next thing you know something like this pops up. I’m thinking that there is a good possibility of that in this case. No point trying to change a behaviour though if the body is ailing. You’ll just stress the dog out and create some real behaviour problems, so the veterinarian’s is the first stop.
I’ve found that a common mistake many people make when a dog’s behaviour suddenly changes is to assume that because the dog has had a recent check up that it’s not a physical problem. Tell your veterinarian everything and when they learn there has been a sudden out of character behaviour change he or she will start looking using a different protocol then in a normal exam. Your own doctor would very likely at the least send you to a specialist for x-rays and yet another for blood work if all of a sudden your weren’t enjoying your walks as much.
Veterinarians are in a position where depending on their locale they pretty much have to do it all on their own. Consider the knowledge base they need in a general practise. Not only do they have to consider all the possibilities for your dog and decide which sort of tests that need to be done, they have to be able to do that for a whole range of species all with their own little medical idiosyncrasies diagnosis pathways. On top of it are all the behaviour enquiries they get which is an entirely different area of expertise then what they were trained for. They remind me of those episodes of the original Star Trek where it seemed that in every episode the ship’s doctor was always enlightening Captain Kirk as to all the things he was not. “Jim, I’m a doctor, not a mind reader/brick layer/philosopher etc.”
Unless your veterinarian is a mind reader, if there is a specialist in the area he or she may send you there. There may be a hip, elbow, or disc issue not easily detected. Much of my business is referred by veterinarians that know I have some skill training dogs, and diagnosing and treating behaviour problems. Going to a specialist can save time and money as it can speed up diagnosis saving as well discomfort. I remember my German Shepherd developing a wiggle to his walk and being referred to an orthopaedic surgical specialist to check it out. The first thing the specialist did was look at Bo’s toe nails. I’m Mr. Cheapo so I start thinking, “Great, a bijillion dollars an hour and we’re getting a pedicure.” Then he said, “John, see how the nails are unevenly worn down on this one side. That gives me a pretty good idea as to what I should be looking for and where.” At that point if he’d told me to carry Bo over my head singing I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major-General in a falsetto in front of the nearest biker bar, I’d have been on my way. He was getting to the bottom of things and fast. I’m thankful my veterinarian knew who to send me to. She sent me to an expert and I hung on to her as Bo’s veterinarian for the rest of his long life.
I have a feeling you’re going to be seeing one specialist or another. Probably the behaviour side but as I said, your veterinarian’s is your first stop.