When Behavioral Problems Aren’t Behavioral

Today I met a couple who are struggling with potty training issues with their young Biewer terrier.

They have been trying to house train her for weeks with no improvement. When they take her out, she will go, but then she goes again as soon as they bring her inside.

They are understandably frustrated by the lack of progress. In the hour that they were at the facility, the little dog peed three separate times. That threw up a red flag to me, and I recommended that they head to the vet to check for a UTI.

Health Related Potty Training Issues

There are a few different health issues that can affect house training. Urinary tract infections are the biggest culprit. Commonly an issue with female dogs, this issue can put a dent in your training. Fortunately, it can easily be solved with a round of antibiotics from your veterinarian.

Other issues can also cause regression in potty training. Kidney infections or kidney disease can result in urinary problems. Older dogs may struggle with incontinence. Some spayed females will also have issues in this area.

Puppy behavioral issues with trainer

How can you tell if the issue is health or behavioral?

If your dog has been doing really well with house training, and suddenly has issues, a trip to your veterinarian is in order. Other red flags include:

  • Seeming unable to “hold it”
  • Puppies who don’t seem to make progress
  • Dogs who go multiple times in a short period
  • Discolored urine
  • Lethargy or acting uncomfortable
  • Increased thirst

If you notice any of these symptoms, your dog should receive a veterinary exam. Bloodwork or a urinalysis may be needed to discover the cause.

Health Issues Related to Aggression

Aggression from a dog is always concerning. It can be particularly distressing when it shows up in a dog that never had those type of issues before.

Aggressive shepherd dog

Sudden changes in behavior always warrant a health check. Thyroid issues are often the cause of sudden changes in behavior. Thyroid levels can be checked with bloodwork, and your vet can prescribe a medication to help your dog return to normal.

Pain can also cause your dog to lash out aggressively. Dogs who have joint issues, an injury, or worsening arthritis may be extra defensive of their space. This can even be seen with sick dogs.

My dog Modoc was diagnosed with IBD, an autoimmune condition, when he was just under two years old. He has intermittent flares, and one of the symptoms of this is him getting grumpier.

This phenomenon has been seen in multiple studies that looked at how GI issues related to behavior. GI imbalances in rats and humans led to more anti-social behavior.

Lastly, neurological conditions can cause aggressive behavioral issues. Certain types of epilepsy can show up in this manner. Dogs with brain tumors may also show a sudden change in behavior that it otherwise without cause.

Health Issues Related to Fear

Some dogs will suddenly develop phobias that they never had before. One case that I saw was an agility dog who started to refuse weave poles. She was unhappy when asked to weave, and would regularly miss poles.

Disc doc Zoe
Reluctance to do normal activities can be a sign of injury.

This was a dog that normally loved agility. She had a great trainer, had no other behavioral issues, and had trialed extensively.

When this behavior started up, her trainer responded just as she should. She took the dog to the vet, because sudden behavioral changes are often health related.

An exam and x-ray of her dog’s foot revealed a broken toe. It wasn’t a bad enough injury to affect normal life, but it made weaving painful for the dog.

Some rest and recuperation were prescribed, and the dog went on the successfully start agility again and run for many more years.

Injuries like these can often cause a more sensitive dog to show fear or apprehension. Sometimes the injury can be very small, other times it might be a more serious issue.

Be An Advocate For Your Dog

When you live with a dog, you really get to know them. You know their quirks, their favorite snacks, and what their favorite activities are. If you notice sudden changes in your pet, make sure to monitor them.

Don’t be too quick to assume that your dog is being too stubborn or obstinate. Sometimes it’s as simple as a UTI or a stubbed toe.

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