THIS STORY IS FROM OUR ARCHIVES
Since Max was young, Debbie has put time and energy into training him. As a result of this hard work, she now knows that when she wants him to behave, she just needs to say the command, and he will obey. He has learnt the usual essential commands: he’ll sit, stay, lie down and come when called. The judicious use of treats has been an important part of his training. He doesn’t always get one, but he knows that if he’s lucky and he does what Debbie wants, a treat is a strong possibility: intermittent reward is the best way to train animals.
The “sit” command is Max’s most reliable one: Debbie knows that she just needs to say the word, with her finger in the air, and he’s guaranteed to sit, plonking his rear end on the ground, and looking up at her hopefully.
So last weekend, when Max refused to sit, Debbie realised that something was wrong. At first, she just thought that he was being unusually stubborn, refusing to sit out of some sort of wilful obstinacy. He was bright and active, and in his usual good form, so she didn’t think there could be a physical reason for his refusal to sit down.
She watched him over the weekend, and she noticed that not only was he refusing to sit down on command, but even when he was relaxing on his own, he wasn’t sitting down at all. He was able to lie down, putting his front feed down first, and then letting his back legs flop down. But he never settled himself in the proper sit position, placing his rear end on the ground while sitting up on his front legs.
This was so odd that Debbie knew something must be wrong with him, so she brought him in to see me on Monday.
First, she gave me a demonstration of the problem: when she said “sit”, and offered Max a treat, he just stood there, refusing to sit down. And she promised me that he was so well trained that he would always sit, especially when offered a tasty treat.
Max was a very easy dog to examine: he allowed me to prod and poke him without any wriggling or yelping.
I carefully felt along his back: could he be suffering from back pain? He showed no discomfort or pain as I pressed along his back so this seemed unlikely.
I then checked his hips, placing one hand on his rear end, and moving his leg up and down with the other. Again, he didn’t flinch or show any sign of being unhappy as I moved his hips.
Finally, I checked his knees. I flexed each knee, and he didn’t mind at all. Then I tried straightening his left knee, placing it under a little pressure. Max yelped loudly: I had found a focus of pain. I tried the same manoeuvre with this right knee, fully extending the joint. Again, he yelped and pulled away from me.
I had found the reason for his refusal to sit: Max had painful knees. When a dog sits, the knees bend then straighten, as they sit down and stand up. It was painful for Max to do this, and that’s why he was refusing to do what he was told.
There are many possible causes of painful knees in dogs, but when it happens suddenly for the first time, it’s often something simple like sprained joints from over-enthusiastic playing or exercising. We’re hoping that this is what’s going on with Max: if this is the case, he’ll recover after a few days of rest and pain relief.
Max went home on pain relieving tablets. I spoke to Debbie the next day. Max had been rested and dosed with pain relief for 24 hours. Was he any better? She had good news: when she said “sit”, Max now sat.