Pain and Behaviour: Why a 15 Minute Vet Check Is Not Enough.
February 08, 2024
Reactive Dog Walking

dog barking at vet

‘It is almost impossible to diagnose pain by examination in the consultation room’ Gwen Covey-Crump BVetMed, CertVA, DipECVAA, MRCVS, pain specialist at Langford Veterinary Hospital, Bristol.

“Chronic pain can be suppressed from consciousness but processed by emotional and cognitive changes” Dr. Kathy Murphy BVetMed, DPhil, CVA, CLAS, MRCVS Chief Scientific Officer, Behaviour Vets.3

‘Dogs suffering from chronic pain often experience frustration and anxiety because they often have difficulty in accessing its daily needs’ (Mills et al., 2020).

anxious dog at vet
Scared dog

Yet with all this knowledge and skills existing to help our canine friends, we still put all the emphasis on giving a dog a 15 minute Vet check to rule out potential pain or discomfort as a factor of worsening or new behaviour problems.

Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats by Epstein et al 20158 stated that ‘it is now accepted that the most accurate method for evaluating pain in animals is not by physiological parameters but by observations of behaviour’.

Think of the benefits that everyone would reap, if we were able to work as a team when it comes to dogs with behaviour problems, Vets, Behaviourists, Dynamic Dog Practitioners, Vet Physios and owners all working with the goal of ensuring pain is not a factor in the dog’s behaviour and day to day life.

At the moment a Vet telling an owner their dog is physically fine after less than 15 minutes, it’s a behaviour problem is nothing more than a false sense of security. It delays finding out about any potential pain or discomfort until the condition has severely progressed.

Is it time we re-evaluate how we approach behaviour problems as owners, Vets and Behaviourists?

Suzanne Gould

Canine Behaviourist and Dynamic Dog Practitioner

Book a call with me Here or Find out more about a Dynamic Dog Assessment Here.

Email Me

Case Study. 

Old English Sheepdog 20 months old. Entire.

Reason for Vet Check – Dog had randomly snapped at owners when getting scratched. Also randomly snaps when people walk by him as he sleeps.

History – previous lameness at Right forelimb after a fall aged 6 months.

Dog did not allow his forelimbs to be handled by Vet – Vet Advised rest and to consult a Behavourist.

Behaviourist – Due to the random nature of behaviour, suspected pain is involved. As the dog doesn’t like to be touched a Dynamic Dog assessment was completed.

Findings –  Right hind weakness, with off loading of weight onto Left Fore. Suggested imaging for front and hind limbs.

GP Vet – did not agree with Dynamic Dog Assessment, suggesting they felt it was OCD in elbows. Referred the dog to Orthopaedic Specialist Vets. CT Scans were requested for front limbs only by GP Vet. Owner following the Dynamic Dog Assessment pushed for CT scans of hind limbs at the same time.

Diagnosis – Bi-lateral hip dysplasia

In this case had the hind limb scans not been done this dog would have been labelled as aggressive. He is now on pain relief and showing behaviourial improvements. Now waiting for Physiotherapy to start.

Case Study

Romanian Rescue – 18 months old

Reason for Vet Check – Behaviour of anxiety outside was becoming increasingly worse. Also the dog starts to lunge for the owners in the home, when suddenly disturbed.

GP Vet – Found no problems physically, the dog was very compliant in the check up.

A Dynamic Dog assessment was completed due to the dog’s anxieties. It revealed Right hind weakness and hip hike.

Vet did not agree with assessment, as they still found the dog physically fine in the check up. The vet prescribed behaviour medication.

Behaviour medication had no effect on behaviour. This was switched to a pain relief trial which proved successful and subsequent X Rays revealed hip dysplasia at Right Hind.

The dog is now in Hydrotherapy with a plan to come off pain relief medication.

Case Study

Wire Haired German Pointer – 2 years old

Reason for Vet Check – Hyperactivity, unable to stop and rest, limited sleep. Also abnormal gaits noted by the behaviourist. Triple tracking, hip hike and roached spine. Advised they speak to their GP Vet and seek out X-rays

History – tail dock after breaking it in a fall aged 18 months.

GP Vet – Dismissed concerns, stating ‘that’s just how your dog is’ and found him to be healthy. Clients pushed for x-rays of hips, lumbar Spine and knees.

Diagnosis – Bi-lateral hip dysplasia and Spondylosis at lumbar spine.

The Vet advised they keep their 2 year old active dog on short lead only walks for the rest of his life. After further discussions with their Behaviourist they got a referral for a Vet who specialises in Stem Cell treatment and have started physio. The dog is now able to relax and is not constantly on the move.



  1. Epstein ME, Rodan I, Griffenhagen G, et al. 2015 AAHA/AAFP Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2015;17(3):251-272. doi:10.1177/1098612X15572062 ↩︎
  2. Mills, D.S.; Demontigny-Bédard, I.; Gruen, M.; Klinck, M.P.; McPeake, K.J.; Barcelos, A.M.; Hewison, L.; Van Haevermaet, H.; Denenberg, S.; Hauser, H.; et al. Pain and Problem Behavior in Cats and Dogs. Animals 2020, 10, 318. ↩︎
  3. Vets, B. (n.d.). Selecting drugs for pain trials -What is a Pain Trial & Why is it Important. [online] Behavior Vets. Available at: [Accessed 19 Jun. 2023]. ↩︎
  4. Reid J, Nolan AM, Scott EM. Measuring pain in dogs and cats using structured behavioural observation. Vet J. 2018;236:72–79
  5. The Veterinary Nurse. (n.d.). Pain assessment and pain scoring models: a review. [online] Available at: ↩︎
  6. ‌Bloor, C. (2017). Pain scoring systems in the canine and feline patient. [online] The Veterinary Nurse. Available at: ↩︎
  7. Hernandez-Avalos I, Mota-Rojas D, Mora-Medina P, Martínez-Burnes J, Casas Alvarado A, Verduzco-Mendoza A, Lezama-García K, Olmos-Hernandez A. Review of different methods used for clinical recognition and assessment of pain in dogs and cats. Int J Vet Sci Med. 2019 Nov 18 ↩︎
  8. Epstein ME, Rodan I, Griffenhagen G, et al. 2015 AAHA/AAFP Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2015;17(3):251-272. doi:10.1177/1098612X15572062 ↩︎

Further Reading

How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour

How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour

Edinburgh Dog Behaviour - Reactive Dogs Reactivity happens for a reason. True Story, reactivity is never your dog being naughty its an important bit of information your dog is giving and it also gives your dog something that they need in that moment. Maybe their...

read more
How To Help Your Reactive Dog

How To Help Your Reactive Dog

Reactive Dog Training Edinburgh Tips To Help Your Dog Living and working in Leith, Edinburgh is hard work when you have a reactive and anxious dog, I should know I live with my own barking lunctic Ally in the heart of Leith. Ally is a 3 year old, Old English Sheepdog...

read more
Dynamic Dog Case Study: Brodie

Dynamic Dog Case Study: Brodie

The problem isn't always straight forward, check out Brodie's Red Herrings. Brodie is a very handsome and playful Old English Sheepdog, his owners reached out to me over problems they were having, with Brodie growling and barking towards his family in the home, at...

read more
Dynamic Dog Case Study: Puka

Dynamic Dog Case Study: Puka

The Vet Doesn't Always Know It All...... Puka(1) I first met Puka when I had be called in to help with his brother Albi's reactivity and after inital work put in place, we discovered that Puka and Albi were having fights. The fights were in part down to one or the...

read more