Like us, dogs have their own forms of verbal and non-verbal communication. Getting to know your dog and being a careful observer of their behavior helps you to develop a deep understanding of your dog.
We know that our dogs are great observers of our behavior, too. That’s how they learn our cues, moods, and habits.
Having a good understanding of one another pays benefits when you have a dog who is getting older, or has disabilities.
Take Izzy. She is an ex-racing greyhound and we’ve known for some time that she has arthritis in her carpus (wrist) and toes. I picked up on the arthritis quite early. I had noticed that almost every time I looked at her over the course of about a week, she was licking her left foot. A visit to the vet for an x-ray confirmed early signs of arthritic changes. In response, she started getting rub-downs with an anti-inflammatory gel, I started her on additional deer velvet supplements (in addition to her glucosamine and chondroitin supplement) and I also increased the frequency of her visits to a local hydrotherapy pool and her massages.
Over the last year, we’ve also been battling corns – something that plagues sighthounds in particular but has been aggravating her arthritis and was the main cause of her progressively becoming more lame. I knew we were having a corn problem because she would limp only when crossing the road over chip-sealed road (intolerance of rough surfaces is typically the first sign).
As she then developed two corns on the same toe, her lameness became constant and our walks shorter, with a pram when she needed it.
Izzy had a flexor tenotomy surgery last month and this has helped greatly in managing the corns but of course the arthritis is still there, she is that much older, and she’s had months of reduced/shortened walks because of her lameness.
Now the bright side. She is getting fitter and stronger and I’m carefully increasing the amount of activity she has. Today, she didn’t want to go out initially for an afternoon walk and so I put her in her pram.
We got as far as around the block before she let me know she was ready to get out and walk. (This is signaled by a high-pitched bark)
I know Izzy is getting tired when her head drops and she starts taking more and more time sniffing bushes, grass and trees. These are signs that she is tiring and the excess sniffing is both a diversionary behavior and, at times, a sign she is stressed and uncomfortable.
That’s when I put her back in her pram. She gets plenty of stimulation and enrichment by watching the world go by. She also loves the attention she gets from passersby – both on foot and in cars. (Shortly after I stopped this video, the couple who approached on foot spent at least 5 minutes talking to her, giving her treats and chatting about her care).
I am always grateful when people stop to talk to us about ‘what’s wrong with her’ and to ask about greyhounds and their welfare.
Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand