We don’t always see physical signs of pain in our dogs, sometimes the first signs that anything is wrong is a change in behaviour.

Nervous / anxious - this is an area where there may not be pain present, it may be down to genetics or your dogs experiences in life. However massage can greatly benefit an anxious dog. There are various techniques that can be used to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system) which will help your dog to relax and rest and relieve feelings of anxiety. And a nervous dog often holds themselves very tightly, never truly relaxing, always ready to move off or jump at the slightest noise or appearance of something scary. Holding muscles in a prolonged contraction can cause the fascia to become tight and dysfunctional, and cause muscular issues as a result. So being nervous or anxious can eventually cause pain, which then becomes a vicious circle as the pain may cause further behaviour problems.

Withdrawing from family life / normal activities - if your previously happy sociable dog withdraws from activities they normally enjoy, pain should be the first thing considered. They may choose to stay in less busy areas of the house, not interact with family members or other pets, show a lack of interest in playing, and not appear to enjoy walks.

Excessive licking -  if your dog is suddenly licking excessively at an area it’s worth considering pain as a cause. Licking can interrupt pain signals and act as a self soothing behaviour, however it can quickly become a compulsive behaviour and lead to skin problems such as lick granuloma.

Avoiding handling or grooming - some dogs don’t enjoy handling or grooming from a young age, but if your dog was previously fine with it and starts to avoid it, pain may be a cause. Being groomed could be pulling on the fur which irritates tight fascia, having to stand for a long time can be hard on sore muscles, and holding paws to clip nails could put pressure on an injured limb.

Reactive or aggressive behaviour - if your dog newly develops reactive or aggressive behaviour it could be as a result of pain. If a dog is feeling pain they are less likely to want people or dogs to interact with them. If they have a painful encounter, a bouncy dog jumping on them for example, they will learn to associate dogs with pain. They then react by barking or lungeing to get the dog to go away, which is extremely effective behaviour. In future in anticipation of an approaching dog causing pain, the dog reacts, and eventually this becomes learnt behaviour often long after the pain has disappeared if the pain isn’t treated and behaviour modification put in place to treat the behaviour.

Noise sensitivity - A 2018 study by Daniel Mills at the University of Lincoln looked at the link between noise sensitivity and pain, and found that in up to 80% of cases pain was present. Recommendations from the study are that instead of following a behaviour modification plan and considering pain if it fails, it should be assumed that pain is present and should be investigated and treated immediately. For more information see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5816950/

The following article shows detailed case studies where common behaviour problems can be linked to pain - https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/10/2/318/htm

If you notice unexplained behaviour changes in your dog your first stop should be your vet. Once the vet has examined them thoroughly, if nothing medical or requiring further investigation is found then ask for consent to be referred for clinical canine massage. Vets can pick up larger musculoskeletal problems but in most cases don’t have the same in depth palpation experience so may miss minor or less obvious but very painful issues.