Monday, July 7, 2014

When It Isn't a Training Problem

Early last week, our newest addition, Tempo, turned into a 12-pound walking behavior problem.  Now, even on his best days, Tempo is still a Jack Russell terrier who didn't receive one lick of training for the first six years of his life, but usually his cuteness still greatly outweighs his terrier moments, and we all like and enjoy each other.

Around last Monday, he became disagreeable about just about everything.  If he was inside, he didn't want to go outside.  If he was outside, he didn't want to come in.  If he was in the living room, he didn't want to go to the bedroom; if in the bedroom, he wouldn't want to go into the living room.  Don't even think about moving him.  If he was in your lap, you better stay put.  If he was laying down, don't dream of picking him up.  He didn't want to go to his crate.  If he was in his crate, he didn't want to even lay eyes on you, and he barked incessantly.  House-training became a thing of the past.  Mostly he glared at us, all "sideways-eared" as we call it.  Lowell was reminded of a Twilight Zone episode, pretty sure Tempo was trying to turn us into a cornfield.  Sometimes he made much uglier faces, and it was pretty clear what he was thinking.

By Thursday night, we were beside ourselves.  We felt like failures as dog owners and dog trainers.  We knew he was a "diamond in the rough" but nothing we couldn't handle, so how was it possible that he was actually getting worse?

Was he too stressed in a house full of bigger dogs?  No, it really didn't seem like it.  He likes the dogs, and even in his crabbiest moments, has never had any qualms with them.  Did he not like where his crate was, on top of the Border Collie's crates?  We moved it to the other side of the room on the floor, to no avail.  He was getting exercise, training, mental stimulation, attention, and quiet rest time as well.  We feed a good diet.  We think his life is pretty low-stress.  We use force-free training methods - never any corrections or punishments.  We knew what issues he did have (some impulse control and minor resource guarding stuff), and had been implementing positive training protocols to address those things.  What on earth were we doing wrong?!?

Friday morning he woke up, and refused breakfast.  He spent that morning mostly slinking around under the bed or the couch.  When he did emerge and let me hold him, I could hear from his (loud and constant) stomach sounds that things weren't settled right in there.  He was fussy and stretched a lot and couldn't get comfortable anywhere for very long.

He ate a small amount that evening, pepped up a bit, but continued to be a jerk and not himself.  Saturday he refused breakfast again.  Still behaving like a ray of sunshine.  He had one bout of diarrhea, still had a bit of a rumbly tummy, but no other symptoms.  We continued to monitor him, treat what symptoms he had, and were vigilant for any other changes or signs for more immediate concern.
Feeling crappy

Saturday afternoon, he came out of his crate from a nap, and was a whole new dog.  He ate, played, wagged his tail (well, his "nubbin"), jumped on us with kisses, played with his toys - "killing" them violently, and tore around the yard like a maniac.  His ears are pointed skyward again - not sideways and sad looking.  He is biddable (for a JRT), agreeable (for a JRT), and seems to genuinely like us again.  He only grumbled to himself once when we moved him over on the couch last night (like I said, he's not perfect).

I always remind the dog owners I work with to rule out physical/medical reasons for behavior changes, but this was a good reminder of just how subtle things can be.  I suspect now he hadn't been feeling 100% all week, but there were no other noticeable changes besides his personality.  I had started to wonder if he had a seizure disorder or some other weird brain stuff going on, and would have started doing diagnostics as my next step if his behavior hadn't improved, but still I really was puzzled and thought I would probably be grasping at straws there.  We are thinking he was having some stomach discomfort maybe related to some new training treats we tried, or perhaps some type of virus he picked up.  It didn't seem major, but enough to make him uncomfortable, and consequently unpleasant, turning his "training issues" into something resembling a much more concerning behavior problem.  We are glad that it seems to have passed without too much incident.

Sometimes things are obvious - the dog who is having accidents in the house turns out to have a UTI, or the dog who snapped at you when you scratched his head has a raging ear infection.  But sometimes it isn't that easily diagnosed.  If your dog suddenly undergoes a drastic behavior change, or if you are using sound, proven behavior modification principles and seeing no improvement at all, please remember to rule out medical issues as well.  Your dog will thank you!

What about you?  Have you ever had a training issue actually turn out to be a veterinary one?
Happy again after a day of play!