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Could your dog be sick?

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Raika has come out of retirement to train for the new TEAM titles.

She’s extremely happy about this new development, because few things make her happier than work.  She loves her long “old lady” walks as well, but it’s still not training.  Training is her passion.

Raika is twelve years old and she needed some changes to her training to accommodate her age.  I rarely throw her ball; instead we play tug and I’m careful about it.  I’ve noticed that after about five to ten minutes of work and play, she’s really quite tired, so I try hard to monitor her behavior more closely than I might with a younger dog.

Recently I taped Raika’s TEAM2 submission.  She passed but….she felt ‘off’ to me.  I put it down to the heat and we carried on.  But as I reviewed the tape, I took another look at her.  This wasn’t right.  She’s panting too much and her rear appears weak.

The next day she didn’t eat her breakfast and she had a temperature.  She’s fine now but….there’s still a critical lesson in there.

It’s my job to monitor my dog’s well being, and because we cannot ask the dog what is causing their behavior, it’s imperative that we give our dogs the benefit of the doubt.  Don’t assume that your dog knows what you want and is simply being obstinate; dogs don’t think that way.  Don’t assume that your dog is taking advantage of you – they don’t think that way either.

Dogs are just dogs; doing what makes sense for them, based on their physical and emotional needs or desires.

If your dog is hot, tired, bored, sick, unclear on what you want, etc. – treat them all the same.  Just stop training.  If it continues over time, then you have a pattern and you’ll want to identify the root issue, is possible.  Accept that you’re working with another being – one who has very limited skills of communication – and it’s just wrong to push through when you may be missing something overwhelming and significant to the dog.

Raika is harder than most dogs to read, because she’s extremely unlikely to opt out, even if she’s not feeling well. As a result, “willingness to work” is just not enough.  I have to go further – is she slower than usual?  Is her head carriage not quite right?  Is she less energetic with her toy?

It’s a painful thing to realize you’ve worked your dog when they’re sick.  It’s worse if you mistreated your dog in any way.

It’s also worth pointing out that a good deal of pain or sickness is not going to be identified by a routine trip to your veterinarian either, because much of pain and sickness is invisible. Can you or a doctor look at me and know that I have a migraine headache?  No – not unless I tell you, or you watch me for very subtle signs, like a lack of “normal” enthusiasm for things that I normally like to do.

Err on the side of caution and give your dog the benefit of the doubt.  If anything seems wrong then just stop.  You can try again tomorrow.

 

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

7 responses »

  1. Wise words!

    Reply
  2. Good advice. Several years ago I had a golden retriever who started refusing jumps in agility, something she had loved before. We were also training in Open obedience. I had a vet radiologist do X-rays and sadly, her hips were not suited for all the jumping. I would rather have a healthy dog who isn’t in pain than force her to train with medications, so we quit. It was disappointing, but I loved her and wanted her happy.

    Reply
  3. Susan Vaitekunas

    Thank you for this ,Denise. After reading about Raika I called my vet to make an appointment for Andyanne my 9 1/2 year old lab. She’s less than 1000 points from her Onyx in Flyball and we noticed a definite drop in her stamina in the last month. It may just be her age but I have to be sure it’s not medical. I’ve been thinking about it but your post really pushed me to make a decision.

    Reply
    • Susan Vaitekunas

      Just an update on Andy’s blood tests. Her cortisol is low so she’s going to spend the day at the vet tomorrow having an ACTH stimulation test to rule out Addison’s disease.

      Reply
  4. I have to do this often with one of my dogs but he is only 3 years. He’s had a few acute episodes of neck and leg pain, and after a while we picked up on lower back tenderness too. He loves to run and wrestle and our younger dog revs him up often, so we have to step in to prevent further injury or soreness on many occasions. And despite him being the easier and more willing training dog, I can’t do any sports which risk his joints. It’s a shame, but his well-being has to come first. And it’s not always easy to tell what is too much until he’s looking sore 😦

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  5. Very good post . Just had this situation with my 10 yr. old Lab at a nosework trial. She was off and i couldn’t put my finger on it.She did well at the beginning but her enthusiasm and energy seemed to fade, which was not like her. I blamed the hot weather at first, but then i noticed other things that was just not like her. At one point she looked up at me and we looked deep in each others eyes. Even though she had a smile on her face, i could tell from the look in her eyes,something wasn’t right. We didn’t finish out the trial and came home. I took her to the Vet right away and she in deed was not up to par. She is back at her game now, but i am glad that i was “in tune” with her enough to pick up on it and not ask her to finish the rest of a very long and hot day, because she would have do so for me…

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  6. Thank you for sharing these tips (and for the reminder as well). It really pays to have a close look at your pup to know if something’s amiss!

    Reply

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