8 Times you should consult a vet before you consult a behaviourist

If you have concerns about your dogs behaviour, it can never hurt to consult a vet before you consult a behaviourist. It’s often much easier for a vet to rule out medical causes than it is a behaviourist. It could take weeks of assessments and trying different things to discover that the training isn’t helping long term, but a vet could see your dog in a few days and treat them relatively quickly in comparison.

The likelihood is that any behaviour change is not medical. However, many types of behaviour problems can be caused by pain or illness problems. Dogs are masters at hiding their suffering, this is a known survival technique. So it makes sense that he would try to cover up any minor ailments leaving you completely unaware of any problems. 

Even minor pain or injury can affect behaviour

Even a niggly pain can cause distress and could make your dog a little bit moody. So you would be wise to get him checked out properly and treat any problems before you get started on any training or rehabilitation. And anyway, if your dogs problem is being caused by a medical problem, then no amount of training will ever make a difference to his behaviour. 

As I say, it’s always a good idea to check with the vet to rule anything out, but here are eight times you definitely, definitely, should.

1. When a change comes on suddenly, or for no obvious reason.

When there is no obvious reason for a behaviour change it is almost always a sign that something has gone wrong medically. Behaviour does change as a result of experience, but the experience would normally have been noticeable to result in a sudden change in behaviour.

Picture is of a golden retriever dog in a sitting position wearing a blue medical grade face mask.
Consult a vet before you consult a behaviourist!

2. Excessive licking or self harm behaviours

These behaviours could just as easily be caused by anxiety or allergy. Even if it’s obvious that your dog has anxiety issues, it’s still better to go to your vet just in case he has both problems (it happens more than you might imagine). Your vet can run tests to eliminate allergy leaving us free to get on with your behaviour training.

3. There are known conditions or the dog is on medication

Conditions can change, and so can your dogs response to those conditions and medications. In both cases, it’s always worth a visit to the vet to discuss any concerns you have with your dogs behaviour and rule out any possible links.

4. Your dog is over 8 (6 in giant breeds)

As your dog advances in age; aches and pains are inevitable. It is also less and less likely their behaviour will be affected by new experiences. Your vet will also be able to make sure they are fit and able to cope with rehabilitation and training. If your dog is not physically fit, or has special requirements, your behaviourist needs to know before you start rehabilitation.

5. Your dog has shown aggression

When a dog shows aggression something is definitely wrong. Incorrectly treating a case of aggression could have serious implications. So it is essential to rule out illness or injury as soon as possible. And if everything’s ok medically, the vet may be able to recommend medication that can help support his behaviour training.

6. When the behaviour is unpredictable

When there is no obvious cause for the behaviour, and it isn’t consistent, it could be caused by pain or illness. Most behaviour will follow some sort of pattern. In fact those patterns are what often give away the source of the problem.

I just read about a young dog that had developed a house training problem. The poor dog had been undergoing “re-training” for a long time. There was no obvious pattern to the unwanted peeing, and the training was having little effect. It turned out the poor dog had bladder cancer. All that frustration could have easily been avoided if the vet had been brought in early.

7. If the problem behaviour is food or digestion related

Many problems behaviours can be linked to the gut. Coprophagia (eating poo) is often linked to nutrition and diet, as is food aggression. Once you are sure your dog is getting a compete amount of nutrition from the food they are getting you can start looking at behavioural causes.

8. When your gut instinct says so!

If you were ever unsure whether to consult a vet before you consult a behaviourist this is absolutely the time. Never underestimate your gut instinct, it knows! I have lost count of the number of times someone has said they knew something was wrong but didn’t listen to their gut! Better to be told you are wrong, that not be told you were right!

At the vet

When you visit your vet remember to tell him about the problems you are having so that he has a clue as to where to start looking, and how best to advise you.  While you are there, also ask him to confirm that your dog is generally fit and healthy, and cleared for rehabilitation.

If any problems do show up, make sure they are properly treated, or under control, before you start any kind of intense training. Once medical problems have been ruled out or treated, it’s time to deal with any behavioural issues and habits that you might be left with. Good luck!

How can I help you with your dogs behaviour training?

Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area and beyond. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!


I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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