The Inner Dog LLC
OK, I'll admit it. Every now and then I go on a rant, no, not really a rant, but I do get to thinking about things that I'd really like everyone that has a dog, wants a dog or sees a dog to know about. So when I have the notion to shout out a few words of wisdom, I blog.
RESPECT THE FEAR, CHANGE THE PERCEPTION
We all have fears. Every single person has them, even the toughest of the tough and the baddest of the bad. We’re supposed to have fears; it’s what allows us as a species to survive. The problem is that many of us are mocked, or worse, for our fears, which only begets a higher level of fear or creates new ones. However, if we had the opportunity to work with someone we TRUST, who could TEACH us how to CHANGE our perception of what we fear, we could lessen or overcome that fear, thereby ENJOYING life even more.
So what does that have to do with dog training? EVERYTHING!! It seems that on top of the most ridiculous expectations we have for our companion dogs, like being perfectly polite, meeting and greeting every living thing with grace and diplomacy, being a friend to everyone no matter how poorly mannered or scary that person or animal is, reading our minds so they know what we mean and what we want whether we have said it or taught it or not, understanding perfectly what we say no matter the language or tone we have spoken to them in, basically expecting them to be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (practically perfect in every way), we also demand that they NEVER be fearful of anything and if for some God forsaken reason they are, then they damn well better get over it and right now! (enter Dominance theory, calm-submission, aversive methods, physical abuse, prong, choke and electric collars, hollering, screaming, growling, throwing bean bags, hanging, “helicoptering”, hitting, punching, flooding, etc.) And we expect all of this from, and do all of this to, our dogs that have the thinking acuity of 3-5 year old children. If they were actually children, we'd be locked up for child abuse and rightfully so.
So if you're doing any of the above, tell me, how’s that workin’ out for you, huh? Not too much for your dog either, I imagine. Actually, why is the simple question: because we’re humans and we have a really hard time admitting to and dealing with our own fears, let alone having a dog (or child) that shows fear. Dammit, having a scaredy dog (or child) makes us look bad! And with that, we’ve gotten right to the root of the problem: we have never learned how to RESPECT our own fears, have never TRUSTED anyone enough to allow them to TEACH us how to CHANGE our perceptions of what scares us so there’s always something holding us back from ENJOYING our lives even more.
Whether an adult, child, dog, cat or any other living species, fear is natural. We are all born with a baseline of fear (survival), are predisposed to others (nature) and accrue others through life experiences (nurture). There is only one way to learn from them and then deal with them: RESPECT the fear, CHANGE the perception. That means finding someone you can TRUST to help TEACH you how to CHANGE your fear and then ENJOY life. Do this for yourself, for those you love, for your dogs, cats or whatever other animals you enjoy having as a part of your life. Y’all will be better for it, believe you me. Amen.
IN THE MOMENT
Thank the good Lord for my pups. I'm over-the-hill, rough around the edges, not politically correct, pretty cynical about people, have a tendency towards sarcasm, more of a who the (beep) drank the water from my glass (none of that half empty/half full garbage) type of guy. My wife should be elevated to sainthood and Mr. Satan won't want me any more than Mr. God will. So what's my point?
Like I said, thank the good Lord for my pups. I've had a lot of dogs over the years, each very different and special. Topping the list is my deceased K9 partner Sanders who was my partner, my best friend, my boy. Next up are my current pups Joey and Rufus. Both are 'special needs' behavioral dogs, each with a complex set of fear issues but each who teach me so much every minute of every day about enjoying who they are and the world they live in.
Joey's big brother was Sanders. Sanders taught Joey everything from house-training to socializing with other dogs, good manners and that streams can be so much fun. Sander's sudden passing in 2010 left him devastated and changed certain aspects of his personality forever. Rufus was born and raised in 3 shelters before finding safety at the Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary at Dogtown. When we adopted him at 6 years of age, ours was the first human home he'd ever been in. Though he continues to have occasional heartbreaking events he has come such a long way.
The reason for the short history was to give you a quick look inside who my pups are, as I see them, an admitted failing on my part. As far as they're concerned, they don't let many obstacles get in the way of enjoying every waking and sleeping, moment, which is what makes our dogs so very, very special. They love to sleep; Joey on his back, Rufus on his side, snoring loud enough to wake the dead. Play hard, sleep hard:) They wake up looking at me with the childlike wonderment of what each new day will bring. They find the simplest pleasure in venturing outside each morning, understanding that the night brought lots of other mammals through our yard and new smells from the skies just for them to sniff. Noses and tails high, they drink in the air, whether sun, rain, snow; hot or cold, but always with delight. For two years we watched Joey muzzle punch Rufus' flanks and pull his tail trying to get him to play and then one day, voila!, Rufus 'bootybumped' Joey, chased him and rolled onto his back so Joey could climb on- I don't know who was happiest, them or us! It was unbelievably exhilarating because Rufus finally found within himself the freedom to be a puppy.
Whether it's trail walking with them off lead, looking deep into their eyes as I rub their muzzles, Joey rooting through toys in the toy box, Rufus chasing deer, Joey jumping through my newspaper as I try to read it, both of them sleeping on the couch while my wife and I watch TV or Joey dancing on hind legs when he gets excited (which he does about anything and everything), I get to see them being dogs in their way, the way enjoyable to them, telling me in such simple terms what the truth about life is as they see it, not understanding why I don't see it like they do: rewarding, fascinating and fun.
When you look at your pups, forget what you see, see what they see and LIVE in the moment, SHARE in the moment and ENJOY the moment, for that moment will never come your way again. Don't miss out on the fun.
WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO "WORK LIKE A DOG"
We’ve heard the phrase “work like a dog” but how many of us really understand what that means? I know and from my first-hand experience I’ll tell you why.
I was an explosives detection canine handler. My partner Sanders was the epitome of the working police canine. A German Shepherd, he was smart, inquisitive, active and we created an unbreakable bond. When he was working, he was working at 100% capacity. His nose and brain were totally engaged, his body was following his brain’s signals. He could not be deterred nor distracted, whether by sight, sound, movement or even food. He never deviated until a search was complete.
While in canine school, we would be tested regularly and of course there was a final exam. The day of the final exam was 85 degrees, moderate humidity and the exam would cover building, field, luggage and vehicle searches. The catch was that there would be multiple searches of each type, varying in length that would take most of the day. By the time we began the last search, Sanders and I had conducted 61 searches, all 100% correct. The final search was a field search, sparse vegetation at the height of the heat of the day, on report of a buried explosive device. My incredible canine partner, mentally and physically exhausted, put the same 100% effort into that search as he did the first, again successfully.
Over the years, we conducted many searches of buildings, fields, trains, trucks, cars, buses and ferry boats looking for explosives, firearms and ammunition. There were days when multiple teams had to search multi-story buildings due to bomb threats and days when we searched football fields, dozens of train cars, or 30-40 buses, and never once did Sanders waver in his searches. There were days when he wasn’t physically at top performance, yet his searches were. There were cold days, hot days, and beautiful days; there was trash and food on the ground, vehicles passing within inches of us; we went into tunnels, on bridges and railroad right of ways; we inspected cargo planes and trains carrying luggage, caskets and mail. The amount of information flooding into his brain at any moment is beyond our comprehension, yet to him, it was all in a day’s work. I was blessed and honored to have such a partner.
Imagine being able to work at 100% capacity, no matter how tired you are, no matter the conditions, time of day or your health. THAT is what it means to “work like a dog.”
The KILLING OF KINDNESS AND COMPASSION
There is a lot being written about the need to save more shelter animal's lives and a lot of what is being written seems to extol the idea that getting animals adopted by any means justifies the end. This can mean no home checks, no background checks, no adoption fees or, the one that hits home to me is when dogs are subjected to aversive training or behavior modification that shuts them down enough to get them out the door.
I read, hear and see many local, state, regional and national organizations shouting from the rooftops the fact that they have saved X number of lives through their adoption methods, but it's not enough. They want to save more lives but, when you dig into the details, you see that it's not necessarily done with kindness, compassion or with a thought to quality of life. Somehow these numbers matter more than the quality of life many of these dogs experienced while sheltered or fostered or the true quality of life they'll experience once in a new home. Somehow the idea of kindness and compassion has been lost in this human-centric race to achieve higher numbers. Somehow the people and organizations behind these numbers feel that their efforts, no matter the means, makes them better, more caring, that they're winning some kind of race.
These groups have resorted to any training method, any behavior modification method, any philosophy, no matter the cost, as long as dogs get adopted. It's interesting that most, if not all, of these organizations DO NOT conduct follow-ups to see if their dogs have remained in those homes. How many dogs are poorly matched, then returned and have their names changed or are euthanized? How many of these dogs are dumped at other shelters or rescues because their true behavioral issues surfaced once adopted? How many of these dogs were euthanized by a vet or abandoned when their new owners couldn't handle or did not have the resources to resolve behavioral problems? No one knows because these organizations don't really care: after all, it would skew the numbers.
I don't believe in the no-kill movement simply because it's not realistic. The concept is noble but the real world is not. Basic human behavior dictates that a lot of people who want a dog will not go to a shelter or rescue and adopt. There are not now, and will probably never be, enough good rescues and shelters with the necessary resources to provide the medical and behavioral help that every dog needs prior to adoption. And yes, there are some dogs whose behavioral issues make them unsafe in the human world. Keeping them in most shelters or with rescues who can only kennel and not foster for untold years is not a great quality of life. This is an issue fraught with emotion because we want to do the best we can for every dog, but we must do the best we can without killing kindness and compassion.
"BUT WHY DOES MY DOG... (FILL IN THE BLANK)"
Remember when you were really young and everything you asked your parents started with "Why"? Even as we grow older and wiser(?) there are many times when we ask "why?" and never get an answer we're satisfied with. Such is the nature of being human. But, our inability to not get an answer that we're satisfied with because it doesn't meet our needs can get us into trouble when it comes to understanding our dogs.
I'm always asked questions that begin with "But why does my dog....." when it comes to dog behavior which then leads me to discuss with that person the differences in how a dog views our world compared to how we view it, what a dog's needs really are compared to what we think they are and how they actually communicate and what they are saying compared to what we think we know about that. It's always in the course of this discussion that people say "That's amazing" or "I didn't know that" or "but that's not what they said on (fill in the blank) TV show". And then the real teaching begins.
I love to spend time at dog parks, day cares and shelters just watching dogs interact. Whether it's with other dogs, people, nature, the environment, etc., it is an incredibly fascinating and educational way to spend time. Another great learning tool is being able to find some remote place where I can let my dogs off lead and just watch what they do, what they find interesting, what lights up their lives. Take the time to do the same; even better, use your cell phone or whatever to video what you're seeing and then take the time to view it again and again. You'll be amazed at what you see and even more amazed at what your dog shows you about how he sees his world, our world, the world as a whole.
And remember this: what is the truth as your dog sees it?
LOOK, LISTEN, LEARN
There are many things that I love to do with my dogs that are fun and there are some things I like to do without my dogs that are fun but there is nothing more educational to do with my dogs than going to a secluded, safe spot, a dog park or doggie day care and spending an hour or a day just watching my dogs. Now, I've watched lots of video so that I can learn about dogs and I've shot lots of my own video to review when I work with my clients but nothing is better than when I can watch the game live, up close and personal.
Sitting and watching dogs can be like watching a 20 ring circus- dogs, dogs everywhere. Ironically, since we are just as much a predatory species as they are, I find myself being drawn to wherever dogs are moving, playing, etc. You know, just like our dogs, something moves, we watch it/chase it. But it is just as important to watch the dogs that are at rest since they are still communicating with all the other dogs around them. Watch their head and eyes: always moving, always aware. Watch their noses: always smelling, always alert. Watch their bodies; physically relaxed but instantly reactive. Whether moving or stationary, they are always in two way communication with their environment.
Something else to think about: our dogs, like all animals, are aware of their total environment, covering 360 degrees. We humans, on the other hand, are pretty much a tunnel vision species unless something catches the attention of one of our senses. Many times we exist in a state of sensory overload due to our hectic world and that's with our limited sensory ability: imagine what it'd be like if we had the capabilities of our dogs? We'd all be on anti-anxiety meds [Wink] .
Remember, the trick to good communication is that it flows both ways. Watch how your dog communicates with his world, listen to what he says, learn what it means and then you'll be the best human partner you can be.
Build TRUST, TEACH Skills, CHANGE Behavior, ENJOY the Partnership
THE VALUE OF UNDERSTANDING VALUE
So how much is the dollar worth today against the euro, the yen, the pound? How much value does silver and gold have? More importantly, how much value does your word, your handshake, your beliefs have? And how are those values when compared to everyone else’s? Do you really care what other people value and do they care about yours? Maybe that's one of the problems with being human; our value systems are so very broad and different from each other’s.
A brilliant trainer and great friend would always remind me that a dog doesn't ignore you; he just has a different set of values as to what is important to him. So then I would ask, "How do I know what he values, or the level of value he places on things he values?" and my friend would always say, "Watch and listen to what he's telling you, it's not that difficult." And voila! He was right. Our four legged companions have a much simpler value system based on the most basic aspects of life: food, water, shelter, territory, a mate. Then there are the secondary aspects: chasing things that move just because, following their nose because they can, shredding our belongings because it's fun, and on and on.
I get asked many times why their dog ignores their recall signal, why their dog runs away from them when they have something they shouldn't, why their dog won't do what they tell them to do or behave like they want. Now before my friend, and many others like him enlightened me, I would have said the dog was being stubborn, was being bad, was trying to show them who's boss, etc. Thankfully, my friend and others taught me the truth, the real reason, the value of understanding the value system of the dog. And you know what's really ironic about it? We think and behave the exact same way!!
Do you want your dog to have a really reliable recall? Make coming to you the absolutely greatest thing that will ever happen to him (except maybe chasing deer [Laughing] ) Do you want your dog to behave well when people enter your house? Hey, for the proper positive motivation and reward, you'll get a star every time. Now you're thinking, wait a minute, my dog will get fat on all the treats I have to give him. Only in the beginning will the off-the-wall high value treats be needed to change difficult behaviors or teach the really tough cues. After that, random super rewards mixed always with great praise, even when we haven't asked for a specific behavior (thank you Kathy Sdao and her great book Plenty in Life is Free) will still get you what you want. Now, it takes more work that just that, and force free fun, trust building (there is nothing more valuable than trust), positive reinforcement training and repetition throughout your dog's life will just keep making everything better. Oh, and that part about us acting the same way, let's be honest, don't you do a better job at some task when the positive motivation and reward (your choice of what that would be) is commensurate with what you've been asked to do? Of course it is; that's human nature. Well, not really, that's just nature.
We have a duty, responsibility and obligation to teach our canine companions what we want from them in a positive way, in their language which they'll understand and respond to. They aren't humans who we can tell to do something because we said so. Just remember, the next time you and your pup aren't seeing things eye to eye or you're being frustrated by his obstinacy, value is in the eye of the beholder.
The BEST KIND OF GOLD DIGGERS
Back in my day (oh no, not one of those stories), people referred to as Gold Diggers were either a) the people who flocked to California during the gold rush or b) the people who insinuated themselves with people of wealth and means in order to get things they wanted.
Fast forward to a conversation I’m having with a good friend and brilliant animal welfare advocate and she says that she’s a gold digger, explaining that she sees past the top layer of every animal to find the heart and soul, the true essence of the animal, what makes them as precious as gold.
I have to admit, I was taken aback by her words not only because they were an excellent description of who she is, but also because they are perfectly descriptive of so many people I know in the animal welfare, training, behavioral, veterinary, grooming and scientific world. Sadly though, as we talked more about this concept, I also realized that there are dog owners, shelter and rescue people, trainers and others who only see the trash, only see the bad, the inappropriate, the worst of what a dog presents and thus look to dispose of it, throw it out or at least contain it so that it doesn’t stink up the house or offend their neighbors, friends and relatives. They don't look for the gold and try to make positive change; to them it’s easier to toss it, suppress it, control it or dominate it, all in the name of being the superior species.
So, which describes you best? Gold Digger or Trash Tosser? If you're a Gold Digger, be proud of it and spread the word. If you know people that are trash tossers, take the time and patience to educate them, show them the way, help them see the light. I’m proud to say that I’m a Gold Digger, and I hope that you're one too. Let's start a new gold rush!
Build TRUST, TEACH Skills, CHANGE Behavior, ENJOY the Partnerhsip
DO YOU SPEAK DOG?
In today's world, more and more occupations, including being a foster parent or the adoption of a child from a different culture, require us to be fluent in a second language. There are entire sections in bookstores, libraries, universities, online programs etc. devoted to learning 'foreign' languages yet it's only in pet supply stores, online pet specialty retailers and certain online book sellers where we can find books and articles about learning the language of our companion animals. No matter the language, if you can't understand and converse in it, you are left behind. A failure to communicate in any language is a recipe for disaster. So too when it comes to 'speaking dog'.
Scenario 1: Your dog is outside and spots another animal. They make eye contact and begin to communicate, predominantly with body language. You're watching this, fascinated by the interaction but not realizing that they're actually holding a conversation. The next thing you know, a chase starts, or they just walk away from each other and you're amazed at how they read each other's minds. To them it's nothing special but to us humans, it's magic. But really, it isn't. We just don't understand their language.
Scenario 2: You've adopted a dog from your local shelter or rescue. The dog has a sweet temperament but is definitely shy around new people and even with some dogs. You're on a walk and you see a neighbor who is also walking their dog. Knowing your neighbor is a dog person like you, you're excited to introduce your new pup to them. As you begin to get closer, you notice your dog slowing down, turning its head away, and pulling back on the leash. You see the other dog doing the same. Not understanding, you try and coax your pup forward telling her it's OK while your neighbor is doing the same. As the gap closes, your dog begins to growl, showing her teeth and lunging at the other dog and then at you!! You apologize profusely and walk away, scolding your dog and baffled by her behavior. You're mystified, as you know your neighbor and her dog love other dogs. You just didn't understand what your dog was telling you.
Humans have created many myths, myths that can result in harmful and even tragic outcomes. "A wagging tail means a happy dog", "When a dog rolls onto its back, it always want a belly rub", "Dogs try to be dominant", "Dogs are pack animals", and the list goes on and on. The point is that science has and continues to help us truly understand the language of animals, what they're telling us, how to understand it, how to speak to them. Our dogs are in our homes not by their choice but by ours: don't we have the same obligation and responsibility to our beautiful, 'voiceless' companions to learn their language, to give both of us the best life possible? Without reciprocal communication, this can't happen. It is absolutely essential for us as their caregivers, their partners and their guardians to learn their language, thereby assuring the best relationship possible.
For books on the subject of Speaking Dog, please go to my website, click on the ABOUT tab and scroll down to Books I Recommend for some great authors and titles that will help you learn dog language. You can also check out www.dogwise.com and www.tawzerdog.com for a comprehensive lists of books, DVDs, e-books, etc.
TRAINING ISN'T LIKE YOUR DESKTOP- THERE AIN'T NO SHORTCUTS
Really got you with that title, right? Yeah, not so much, I know, but it was the best I could come up with to talk about one of my "pet peeves": taking shortcuts.
Now, as a child I was always accused (rightfully so) of trying to shortcut everything I did because I was always in a big hurry. You name it: schoolwork, homework, getting dressed for school, baseball practice, jumping over our cinderblock wall, running up steps, whatever. I just had too many places to go, too many things to do and too many people to see. Well, as the old saying goes, as we get older, we get wiser.
It seems that whenever I'm 'talking dog' with someone whose dog is less than what they'd like it to be, I first spend the time trying to educate them about their dog. It's never a short conversation but I've found ways to get to the heart of it and from there, go on to offering suggestions or protocols that will hopefully help. Inevitably, the person will begin asking for ways to make progress happen sooner or the protocol be easier or for some way to help their dog think faster. And then I have to say to myself, "Self, I say, don't take the shortcut and just say NO, explain why what their asking won't work."
Working with your dog also means never taking the shortcut. Whenever you're teaching your dog something new, trying to overcome a problematic behavior or changing their fearful perceptions, I have 4 hard and fast rules; you must always lay the foundation; you must master each step before moving on to the next step; if you think you’re going too slow, you’re not and you must always work with your dog in a way that is positive, fun, rewarding and nurtures trust. There is immense satisfaction and joy for both of you when you make the effort and take the time to do things the right way. Shortcuts may get you to the finish line, but that doesn't mean you won the race.
DOGS DON'T LIE; HUMANS DON'T LISTEN
One of the most incredible human beings and canine teachers I've ever had the honor and privilege to personally know passed away suddenly two weeks ago. His name was Pat Whitacre, the team leader of the trainers at Best Friends Animal Society's DogTown, a mainstay of the Nat Geo show by the same name and recently the lead animal behavior specialist at Pets Alive in NY. He was a great friend, a true mentor, possessed a brilliant mind and was always there whenever anyone needed his sage advice and help. Which leads me to today’s topic: Dogs Don’t Lie; Humans Don’t Listen?
Pat taught me an amazingly simple truth about all animals- they don't lie. It is not in their genetic makeup to lie, be spiteful, nor do they come ready made to fit into the strange and beguiling human world. Dogs can communicate with all of the other animals on the planet - it's a primal instinct that ensures survival. Body language, facial expressions and vocalizations all communicate to another animal their wants, needs, desires, what they see as the truth in their eyes. There is only one problem: Humans don't listen to what our dogs say.
Now I know you're saying well, I don't speak dog and they don't speak (pick your language) and you're right. But the onus is on US to understand THEM, not the other way around. Your partnership with your canine companion is just as much about what your dog sees as the truth in his life and his value system as it is about yours. A dog's life is simple, and while their emotions are pretty deep and more complex than originally believed, it's much easier to learn to speak dog than their ability to learn any human language.
There are a lot of outstanding books and DVDs on the subject of understanding how dogs communicate and you'll find a list of some of them on my website under the About heading. Most of these are easy reads and you owe it to yourself, your dog and the relationship you have with your dog to understand what he's telling you. Learn, look and listen; it will make all the difference in the world and will help you and your dog be the best you can be.
Build TRUST, TEACH Skills, CHANGE Behavior, ENJOY the Partnership
AGGRESSION, REACTION & FEAR OH MY!
I’ve always been known as someone who can’t shut up and who will talk to anyone about anything, so why is the idea of blogging to the world about something I’m passionate about so damn terrifying? Well, thinking about this got me to thinking about other things, all dog related of course and “aha!” a light bulb moment.
I receive a lot of calls for help from so many owners who have dogs that are “aggressive” (reactive) on leash when they see another dog, human or whatever and they can’t understand why. They go on to tell me that their dog is great with the family, great with friends and relatives and their dogs but once the leash goes on, it all goes to.. well, you know. And I do know, which, when I was thinking about it, suddenly explained to me why I’m so ‘reactive’ to blogging: to me, blogging is like wearing a leash and we all know that once you’re wearing a leash, your ability to decide fight or flight is severely limited so we act like a monster in order to scare away what makes us afraid.
There, I said it, I’m afraid. So when I was ranting to my sister tonight about all the problems with having to write a blog, my voice got louder, my language not so polite and excuses abounded: l was having a rather loud tantrum (reactivity to a fear inducing trigger). As I acted out, my dogs left the room (flight), my wife ignored me (avoidance- the response of the socially stable not to exacerbate the situation) and my sister was nice enough to quietly listen (the peacemaker). Since everyone else stayed calm, I cut short my diatribe (offered an appeasement behavior), didn’t talk about it anymore (put distance between it and me), watched TV ate, some junk food (great reward for better behavior) and decided that with some time and distance I could do this (progress).
If you haven’t guessed it, this initial entry was about fear induced reactivity (what most people call aggression) which is what every species displays when confronted by fear. Either do the Monty Python thing, “Run away, run away!” or puff yourself up to be the biggest, baddest thing on the block to make what scares you go away. The nice thing for us and our dogs is that the perception of something as fearful can be positively changed using force-free, science based, positive reinforcement methods. Which means, boys and girls, at the end of the day, we humans and our dogs think so very much alike. Now, if we take the time to recognize and embrace this simple fact, we’ll create partners through trust not subjects through domination.
Build TRUST, TEACH Skills, CHANGE Behavior, ENJOY the Partnership
"MEDICAL BEFORE BEHAVIORAL" ALWAYS
When veterinary behaviorists and well-schooled trainers are attempting to understand a behavioral issue, they will always be thinking "medical before behavioral". Why, you ask? Well, because our dogs are just like us. When we are uncomfortable or in pain, we tend to behave less appropriately then we might otherwise. Same for our pups. Add in the fact that all other species, being more predator and prey oriented, know that when they are at less than optimal physical performance, they are vulnerable. Being vulnerable leads to being on edge, being hyper vigilant to their environment, other animals, people and anything they perceive as a possible threat. That means the dog is now fearful, fearful for its own existence, desiring only to be safe while trying to be comfortable from the pain. Cases in point:
#1. I received a call from a long time client whose dog, a registered therapy dog, was suddenly becoming very dog reactive on lead. Now this is not only a therapy dog, but a dog that loves daycare, has incredible communicative skills with other animals and loves dogs, people, cats, squirrels and life. In discussing this with her, I asked if he had shown any signs of not feeling well. At first, she couldn't remember seeing any difference in him but as I asked more questions, it came out that he had been having some sporadic tremors of his hind leg and some stiffness in his front legs. I asked her to get him checked out and viola!, the vet did some blood work and his case of Lymes had come roaring back like a runaway freight train. Well, he's back on meds and after two weeks, this pup is back to his normal, joyful, loving life self.
#2. I was asked by a rescue group I do assessments for if I'd take a look at a 2 year old dog that had been recently rescued from the mid-west, was now in one of their foster homes (for about 4 weeks) and had started to be both dog and human reactive, to the point where the foster mom couldn't allow him around her two frequent family members. (Note: She lives in a second story condo with a lot of outdoor stairs to climb and the weather had turned frigid.) I went to her home along with a member of the rescue group to do the assessment and while observing the dog, noticed that every time he tried to sit down, he stutter stepped, couldn't sit and then slid into a down position. I asked the foster mom if she had ever seen this and she said that he had never sat in the 4 weeks she had him. She also said that it was 'normal' for him to slide into a down position. I stopped the assessment and asked the rescue to get him examined, which they did. Two days later I got a call and the rescue told me the vet who examined him did x-rays and actually cried when she showed them to the rescue: his hips were possibly the worst she had ever seen in 20+ years. This rescue group is really amazing- they're taking care of whatever surgeries he will need, finding a more comfortable foster home for his recovery and will wait to make any judgments about his behavior until after his medical issues are cleared up.
These cases are not unusual. As a matter of fact, they're pretty common. The point of all of this is, whenever you see a change in behavior or, if in your gut you just think something is off with your dog, get it checked. Medical issues of any kind can affect behavior. The sooner your pup gets checked and can be given a clean bill of health, the sooner he can be back to his normal self or, if there is a behavior problem, the sooner we can work on it using force free, science based, positive reinforcement methods to effect the changes we want.