When Hattie was younger, I had my suspicions that something wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t know what.
A mini poodle puppy that didn’t jump, didn’t climb, and was happy with minimal walks (though she seemed perfectly comfortable on walks and bombing around the house and garden), and was not at all happy with having her back end groomed… it just didn’t sit right with me.
Because of this, combined with the knowledge and experience I have of training issues and strange behaviour caused by pain, I did not train ‘sit’ particularly. I also kept a very close eye on her movement, what she was happy to do and not happy to do, and sought veterinary attention.
I tend to teach sit, but not practice repetitively whilst they are young. If a dog/puppy appears reluctant to do it, even though they have figured out what it means, I don’t push it before getting them checked. If they are clear of any problems and just don’t like to do it in certain places, I don’t ask for it because frankly, I wouldn’t want to sit on a cold, wet floor either, and a stand will do just as nicely.
Sure enough, Hattie was later diagnosed with bilateral luxating patellae (dislocating kneecaps on both sides) that were severe enough to need surgery – in fact, they were popping out a lot and weren’t always popping straight back in.
Her main signs of discomfort were not wanting to sit when asked, and being fidgety on the grooming table. She could easily have just been labeled as ‘stubborn’.
She’s now 4 months post-op, fully healed and the vet has confirmed no further surgery required – we’ve just started hydrotherapy to build her muscles up.
Hattie now sits through choice as soon as someone gets a treat out.
She never did that before.
It’s so important to look at your dog as a dog with choices, as a dog that knows when something doesn’t feel right, not as a dog that is just ‘stubborn’ or ‘thick’, and remember that they may actually be trying to tell you something.
As trainers, it’s important that if our clients tell us they’re struggling with something, we don’t just assume they’re not teaching it right, or don’t have enough motivation. We need to look at the bigger picture and listen to these dogs. We need to understand pain in dogs.
Listen to the dogs. They have a lot to say, and it is worth hearing (some of it is utter garbage, but some of it is very important!).