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Why does my dog need a vet check before seeing a behaviourist?

Dogs don't speak our language, but they do communicate with us through their own body language and behaviour; a change in your dog's usual behaviour could be their way of telling you they are in pain or discomfort.

A recent review of cases by Mills et al. (2020) indicated that an estimate of around a third of all behaviour cases involve a painful condition, and in some instances, this figure may reach nearly 80%!



If you think back to the last time you were in a lot of pain with a toothache or a headache, you might remember being a bit grumpier than usual; you probably didn't feel like going out or socialising - you became less tolerant of things around you and your behaviour changed!

Before working with a behaviourist on a behaviour change/training plan, it's crucial to check with your vet that your dog is in good physical health and that there are no underlying health conditions causing or contributing to your dog's behaviour. If there are, it's important that these are treated or there is a plan in place to manage them.

Sometimes, we can see an improvement in behaviour when a medical problem is treated or managed without the need for behaviour modification/training; it's crucial to check that your dog is in good health before training, as it may be very difficult for your dog to learn effectively if they are not feeling well.

"But my dog looks fine!". Some medical conditions are not always obvious just by looking at the dog. It may just be a short-term problem such as an ear infection, itchy skin or an upset tummy, or there might be a more serious issue to investigate like arthritis or metabolic conditions.


Your vet might be able to refer you to a behaviourist themselves, or you can get in touch with a behaviourist who should provide you with a referral form to give to your vet.

If your dog hasn't seen the vet for a while or since the unusual behaviour began, your vet may need to see the vet for a check-up before providing the referral.

Any reputable behaviourist will work on veterinary referral and require this before working with you and your dog. It's important to work with a professional behaviourist like a member of the APBC, ABTC or FABC, who will ensure that your dog's welfare needs are met.


Some signs that your dog might be in pain include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Reluctance to move or engage in walks or play

  • Excessive licking or scratching of specific areas

  • Changes in sleeping, eating and drinking

  • Increased sensitivity to noises

  • Lameness or stiffness when getting up

  • Excessive vocalisations such as barking or whining

It's important to consider your individual dog and what's "normal" for them!

If you have noticed a change in your dog's behaviour or think they might be in pain, my vet referral form is available to download here.

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