Is Your Dog in Pain?

It’s easy to miss signs that our dog is in pain, and they can’t use words to let us know. Learn what signs tell you that your dog may be uncomfortable or in pain.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #195

Is Your Dog in Pain?

My dog Juniper just had some major dentistry done, when it turned out his two upper carnassial teeth – those big square ones near the back of the jaw – were cracked, and one had an abscess underneath. The first I knew he was in pain was when he yelped while chewing a bone. To my dismay,  after the teeth were pulled I realized that he must have been uncomfortable for quite a while. He had been keeping his mouth closed on our walks. I know perfectly well this is a sign of tension in a dog, yet I didn’t really register it. After he had dentistry, his whole face changed: He walked with his mouth soft and slightly open, and he looked “smiley” again.

In my defense, Juniper’s discomfort and pain probably came on gradually, and that’s why they slipped past me. This week: how to spot clues, even subtle ones, that your dog is uncomfortable or in pain, so he doesn’t have to soldier on when he needs veterinary care and pain relief.


Do Dogs Hide Pain?

We often hear that animals hide pain to protect themselves from attack. This certainly makes sense for a prey animal like a rabbit or a deer. And many of us have noticed that when one animal in a multiple-animal household gets sick, the others sometimes gang up on it. So, unlike many statements that are repeated over and over again on the Internet, this one actually makes sense. And if our dogs’ evolutionary history disposes them to conceal pain (and other symptoms of illness), then we have to be extra alert so we can take the best care of them.

Yelping, Flinching, and Sudden Aggression

If your dog yelps or flinches when a particular spot is touched, that’s an obvious sign. Aggression is another strong hint: if your friendly old dog one day snaps at you when you touch his hip, it’s not because he suddenly developed a mean streak. Speaking of geriatrics, you often hear people speak affectionately of their “grumpy old dog.” Grumpy Old Dog may well be grumpy because he’s in pain a lot of the time, so get him to the vet. Indeed, this applies to any adult dog who suddenly gets irritable.

See also Health and Behavior in Older Dogs


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).