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Support systems for your dog

What comes to mind when you think about support systems? In mental health it is explained as a network of people, groups, social communities, therapists, doctors etc, that help with your overall mental state. For example, an individual suffering from an addiction will have a higher chance of recovery if they seek out several support systems. This means that they do not solely rely on the help and support from their family. They first speak to their doctor which may result in medical help and referral to a specialised service. They seek support groups that host safe spaces where they can talk with like-minded individuals about their addiction. They also may employ the help of talk therapies to help them deal with the underlying cause of the addiction. They may also look at ways they can relax, decompress in the form of a new hobby, exercise or holistic treatments.

But what support systems are there for our dogs? And why does he need more than one? To explain this, we will look at a hypothetical case.

Monty is a six-year-old German Shepherd. His owner has been referred to me by their vet because he has started displaying aggressive behvaiour towards people. The owners had a few incidences at home when Monty was lying next to them on the sofa. He seemed to want to be near them, but when they moved to get up he growled at them. They automatically assumed he was getting too big for his boots, and was trying to bully them. They tried disciplining him with a verbal reprimand and pushing him off the sofa when he did this, but this escalated the problem and left the one owner with a level three bite on their arm.

Monty had also become very "fussy" about eating his food. The owners started changing his diet hoping it would help, but no joy. The only way they could get him to eat was by hand.

What had changed for Monty in the past four months?

The vet visit highlighted that Monty had arthritis in his shoulders. The vet could not find anything wrong with Monty's digestive system.

Behaviour diagnosis

After carrying out behavioural observations and investigative questioning, it became clear that Monty's aggressive outbursts were due to pain. The sofa was an issue because when Monty lay a certain way in relation to where the owners were sat, when they moved, it caused him to move and therefore caused pain in his shoulders. The level three bite happened because after having already experienced pain, Monty received further pain due to the physical removal of him off the sofa by his owner.

Monty was unable to eat off the floor from his bowl because it was painful for him to take his head low down. Feeding from his human meant he could keep his head shoulder height where it was comfortable to eat from.

What support systems does Monty need?

1) Medication from the vet to help with pain management.

2) Hydrotherapy to help with ease of movement of the shoulders and to slow down the effects of the arthritis. The hydro also acts as a gentle exercise opportunity for Monty.

3) Support from his humans in the form of observational skills and implementing changes in the house to help support Monty. This includes giving Monty a raised feeding and drinking platform with a non-slip mat for him to stand on. Giving Monty his own settled place next to the sofa, where he will not be disturbed physically if the owner gets up and moves.

4) Support groups such as CAM (Canine arthritis management) where the owners can learn so much when it comes to supporting their dog throughout the degeneration of arthritis. Also, a safe place for them to listen to and talk to other dog owners who are going through similar experiences.

The above-mentioned are of course just some of the things that can be done, and there is much more that can be added, changed or removed to help support the dog.

The point is, we can focus on the main obvious area of support, which in this case would be the pain management, and it would help to some degree. However Monty will still be on edge or worry when resting next to their owner on the sofa due to fear of them moving. He would experience an increase in how quickly his arthiritis deteriorates if changes were not made day to day with respects to how he is exercised, fed, resting areas, slippy surfaces etc.

The owners may find it hard and challenging to provide monty with what he needs, or they may not know where to start or what to do with out the help of the support group CAM.

Friends and family might be very sympathetic to their situation, but they will not understand fully, and therefore it is important for Monty's owners to have a safe space where they can talk to others who do.

What I am trying to say is look at the big picture. What could be potentially affecting your dog, and what support can be given in various areas to help them.

Thanks for reading.



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