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No Walkies For You

Dear John,

I am the owner of a 5-1/2-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever. 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 someplace and then walking from there. She has no problem doing this as she loves car rides. Can you please help? -Bev

Hi Bev,

When dogs 3 years or older suddenly change behavior 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 behavior though if the body is ailing. You’ll just stress the dog out and create some real behavior problems, so the veterinarian’s is the first stop.

I’ve found that a common mistake many people make when a dog’s behavior suddenly changes is to assume that because the dog has had a recent checkup that it’s not a physical problem. Tell your veterinarian everything and when they learn there has been a sudden out of character behavior 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 you 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 general practice. Not only do they have to consider all the possibilities for your dog and decide which sort of tests that need to be done, but they also 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 behavior inquiries they get which are 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/bricklayer/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 behavior problems. Going to a specialist can save time and money as it can speed up diagnosis saving as well as discomfort. I remember my German Shepherd developing a wiggle to his walk and being referred to an orthopedic surgical specialist to check it out. The first thing the specialist did was look at Bo’s toenails. I’m Mr. Cheapo so I start thinking, “Great, a bazillion 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 behavior side but as I said, your veterinarian’s is your first stop.

– John

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