I joke about greyhounds, they can also often hide chronic pain well. It’s their acute pain response and that is notorious (The greyhound scream of death!)
Whilst it’s difficult to hide an acute pain response, chronic pain is often easier to adapt to and hide. Whilst we may learn to function with it, it can still have an impact on things such as sleep, appetite, general energy levels and sensitivity to stimuli. This eventually impacts on emotional regulation and behaviour. Something we can probably relate to well if we reflect on our own experiences with pain.
An increased sensitivity to stimuli is also adaptive, because if you are compromised- you will likely need more time to get away from danger. Therefore, we often see increased sound sensitivity and vigilance in dogs who are in pain.
This increased sensitivity to stimuli can have an effect on their sleep and the pain itself may make getting comfortable enough to sleep difficult. This can make it challenging for dogs to enter REM sleep and work through the whole sleep cycle as often as needed.
This has a knock on effect, because it’s during sleep that the body repairs and regulates itself best. If sleep is constantly interrupted, then the body’s ability to repair the cause of poor quality sleep is inhibited- and we now have a bit of a vicious cycle.
Reduced sleep, heightened vigilance and increased behavioural responses to stimuli elevates the stress response- and now we have an escalating problem. A dog whose stress levels are increasing and whose unable to bring these back down during quality sleep.
Pain itself and the lack of quality rest and sleep it often brings can lead to a decrease in emotional regulation. This may not always mean that a dog is more likely to be aggressive. For some dogs it may mean they could get more frustrated as pain and lack of sleep interfere with the learning process, leading to challenges focusing and an increase in errors.
An increase in irritability is often observed in dogs who are in pain. For example, Mohawk starts to resource guard personal space or chews more from the other dogs when he has a sore muscle somewhere.
Wanting a walk or chasing a ball does not mean a dog is not in pain.
Motivation to access enriching information (going for a walk) or to chase a toy at high speed can overshadow pain. Adrenalin can be released in preparation when such activities are anticipated and can mask pain.
I once ran my fastest 10k after rolling my ankle 2k in- so do not underestimate the power of adrenalin. It is there to help you escape danger, even if you are hurt.
I am frequently spotting subtle gait abnormalities in my behaviour cases. To an untrained eye, subtle indicators of pain are incredibly easy to overlook.
TAKE HOME ADVICE:
1. Even if your dog is highly active and fast paced, give your dog a 1-2 days of slow paced, reduced duration walks to avoid exasperating a low grade injury. We all get tweaks and strains, especially those who do sports. Avoid it getting to the stage where your dog refuses to walk or bites someone as a means of communicating how much something hurts.
2. Regulate fast paced dogs on their walks and help them slow down to avoid injury. Explosive movement should not be constant.
3. If you observe any changes in your dog’s behaviour, including their sensitivity to stimuli or their general energy levels- take them to the vet for a check over.
4. If your dog has a behaviour problem, only work with professionals who get a vet referral from your vet. Part of our job is to not only provide management and training solutions for you, but it’s also to ensure the problem is not caused or exacerbated by something that the dog is otherwise hiding well.
The ABTC register has a list of behaviourists and CABs in the UK who will work via a thorough process.