Tito was a four year old rescue, who shortly after being adopted was reported as showing signs of aggression.
According to her adopters she would growl for "no apparent reason", and had bitten her new owner twice. On one of the occasions he was just sat reading his newspaper.
She was also reported to be very reactive to others dogs on walks, lunging and barking and acting 'out of control'.
She had been to the vets twice for this behaviour, and on both occasions the adopters were told that Tito was just a very aggressive dog, probably down to poor treatment previously, and that her behaviour was 'typical' of rescues with 'anxiety issues'. They were advised to muzzle her at all times when out - and the vet had also muzzled Tito in the exam room as she would go to snap at the vet when she was being handled.
I was contacted by the rescue as the adopters were now concerned for the welfare of their grandchildren when they came to visit due to Tito's unpredictable behaviour and were looking to rehome Tito as they felt it was no longer safe for her to stay with them.
Once I got the call....
The rescue asked for me to go and assess Tito's behaviour in the home and to see what I thought the problem might be.
After being sent some home video of Tito being given treats, it was clear to me that she was unable to 'sit' properly - she would try hard in order to get the treat, but would hover so she could be rewarded with a treat and then return to a stand as soon as she possibly could.
Other behaviours, like refusing to climb stairs, and the apparent 'unpredictable' biting behaviour were also discussed.
I went to visit Tito and spent only an hour with her, watching how she moved, laid down, and navigated the house and garden. I took some more photos and video too.
I go back to the rescue...
I called the rescue the next day and advised that there was clearly a problem, I believed in Tito's rear end, possibly her lower spine - due not just to how she moved, but also her reluctance to move in certain ways and how she laid down on the same side every time. She would also tap her right left paw against the ground when stood for too long.
I recommended that Tito be seen by another vet as soon as possible, focusing on examination of her rear end and an area specifically over the right hip. (Whilst I was indicating this area to the adopters, despite my hand being a good 10 inches away, Tito went to snap at me then too).
No one could ever have imagined what came next...
Tito was rehomed very shortly after my visit as they adopters were understandably fearful for their younger family members.
Tito went into temporary foster and was taken to another vet who arranged for X-rays.
Tito's spine was peppered with gun shot pellets - she had clearly been shot at some point in her life, and never received any care for it. In addition Tito was found to have a tumour on her spleen.
Both of these factors would have undoubtedly been causing Tito significant pain on a daily basis, and any additional pressure to these areas would likely have made the pain much worse.
Tito wasn't being a 'bad' dog - she was trying to protect herself from feeling any more pain than she already was.
Fear of a dog approaching whilst on a lead, and reaction to sudden movement (the adopter crossing his legs whilst reading the newspaper with Tito laid by his side) caused an instinctual reflex action in Tito to try and protect herself from feeling any more pain.
Tito was admitted for an emergency splenectomy - which was a success. The gunshot in her back is in such a difficult place around the spinal cord that it was considered too complicated a surgery to carry out, with many risks. We also found out that Tito was a lot older than her estimated 4 years (nearer 8 or 9) and so she is now under conservative care with pain medication so she no longer has to suffer.
A new start...
Tito now has a new home where she can live out her days in peace and more importantly, pain-free.
Oh - and her new owners describe her as a friendly, amiable dog who has never shown any sign of aggression. Tito is a very 'good dog'.
What we know...
Research has shown that at least a third and as high as 80% of behaviour cases presented to vets by their owners can be related to pain or discomfort in one form or another**, but for many of us this just doesn't stack up right? We'd know if our dogs was in pain because there would be clear signs like limping or crying?
You can see from Tito's story that dogs are masters of disguise when it comes to pain and the subtlety of how they communicate their discomfort can be practically invisible to us as owners.
If you are concerned about your dog's behaviour then feel free to click on the button below and book a free chat with me. I'll do my best to help.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality purposes
**Pain and Problem Behavior in Cats and Dogs Daniel S. Mills 1,* , Isabelle Demontigny-Bédard 2 , Margaret Gruen 3 , Mary P. Klinck 4 , Kevin J. McPeake 1 , Ana Maria Barcelos 1 , Lynn Hewison 1 , Himara Van Haevermaet 1 , Sagi Denenberg 5,6, Hagar Hauser 7 , Colleen Koch 8 , Kelly Ballantyne 9 , Colleen Wilson 10 , Chirantana V Mathkari 11, Julia Pounder 1 , Elena Garcia 12, Patrícia Darder 12, Jaume Fatjó 12 and Emily Levine