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Is Pain Causing Your Dog's Behavior Problems? How to Find Out and What to Do Next

Unwanted behaviors like aggression, reactivity, and anxiety in dogs often have complex roots, but one possibility that must be ruled out is untreated pain. Dogs are masters at masking discomfort until it manifests through sudden behavior changes. That’s why assessing for pain is a critical first step in addressing any behavioral concerns.

In this article, we’ll explore the connections between pain and behavior struggles in dogs. We’ll cover warning signs, diagnostics, treatment options, and most importantly, how addressing pain paves the path for training success.

A black pit bull mix dog and a red and white short-haired dog lay on a gray upholstered pet bed. The black dog is positioned in a down-stay facing the camera. Its chin rests on its front paws. Behind it, the red and white dog lays with its chin also resting on its paws in a down-stay. Both dogs have prick ears focused forward and appear calm and relaxed as they hold their positions on the shared dog bed.

The Sneaky Nature of Canine Pain

Dogs have an incredibly high pain tolerance bred into them as hunters and workers. Minor discomfort rarely slows them down. This allows chronic or progressive pain to go undetected by owners until it reaches a tipping point.

Sudden aggression, refusal to be touched, anxiety, reactivity, inappropriate urinating, or other unexplained behavior changes may be the only outward clue that your dog is in pain. Their unusual behaviors stem from fear of pain associated with certain movements, frustration, or simply not feeling well.

Getting to the Root Cause

If your dog shows any unusual behavioral disturbances, schedule a veterinary exam right away. Describe all behavioral concerns in detail so your vet can look for potential pain triggers.

Your vet will perform a thorough physical exam, palpating the abdomen, assessing gait and joints, checking the back and neck, and examining the mouth closely. Diagnostic tests like x-rays, MRI, or bloodwork may be recommended to uncover hidden sources of pain.

Common Pain Triggers in Dogs

If your dog gets a clean bill of health, look next at lifestyle factors that could be causing chronic discomfort:

  • Joint or muscle issues like arthritis or injuries

  • Dental disease from plaque buildup

  • Skin problems like allergies, insect bites, and infections

  • Gastrointestinal upset from food allergies or irritation

  • Headache or neuropathy pain

  • Sore paws from too much exercise on hard surfaces

Relieving Pain through Treatment

If a source of pain is uncovered, treatment options may include:

  • Pain medications like NSAIDs, gabapentin, tramadol

  • Surgery for injuries like cranial cruciate ligament tears

  • Antibiotics and antifungals for infectious skin and ear issues

  • Better quality diet and supplements to improve joint health

Pay attention to how behavior improves as pain is managed. Keep notes to share with your veterinarian on how treatments correlate to changes in behavior.

Warning Signs of Discomfort

Subtle signs your dog may be in pain include:

  • Limping, trouble standing up, stiffness, or altered gait

  • Less interest in walks, play, or normal activities

  • Increased panting or vocalizing

  • Changes in appetite or bathroom habits

  • Increased anxiety or restlessness

  • Aggression when touched in certain areas

  • Seeming depressed, withdrawn, or overtired

If you notice any of these issues, call your vet right away. Catching pain early prevents long term impact on mobility and quality of life.

Setting Dogs Up for Success

Properly addressing pain removes a major roadblock to effective training. Relieving discomfort allows dogs to focus, engage, and retain new skills. Prioritize your dog’s physical health and comfort first and foremost to unlock their training potential.

The Takeaway

If your dog suddenly develops behavior issues like reactivity, separation anxiety or aggression, the possibility of undiagnosed pain should not be overlooked. Schedule a veterinary workup and tailor treatment to maximize your dog’s comfort. Alleviating pain and proper training go hand in hand for pets to live their best lives free of behavioral struggles.


Is your dog's sudden behavior change leaving you confused and overwhelmed? As a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant, I can provide compassionate guidance tailored to your unique situation.

Schedule a consultation with me to explore whether untreated pain could be the underlying cause of your dog's aggression, anxiety, or reactivity. My individualized training programs focus on addressing the ROOT of behavior problems in a gentle, dog-friendly manner.

My goal is to empower you with the knowledge and tools to help your dog thrive. Let's get to the bottom of your pup's behavior struggles together. The first step toward lasting change is understanding the role pain may play in your dog's unusual behaviors.

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