Dog on the Couch

2016-03-17 06:00

Hi Susan,

I HAVE a curious problem with my collie cross and hope you may be able to help. She hurt her leg when she was a puppy well over two years ago when my son accidently overturned a chair on her. It was not serious and involved anti-inflammatory medication and rest. We recently acquired a new puppy and, mysteriously, the collie began limping and continues to do so. We have had her thoroughly checked by a reputable vet, and no physical cause can be found to explain this. She only limps when around the puppy. Any ideas?


This is an interesting question. If the vet has definitely ruled out a physical cause, it seems likely to me that this is what has been called “sympathy lameness”, thought to be caused by psychic trauma whereby a memory of a painful or traumatic event has been deeply imbedded in the subconscious. A later, unrelated traumatic event for the dog induces a physical response appropriate to the original traumatic incident. This could be based less on the actual pain in the paw or leg at the time, than on the way the dog interpreted the incident and remembers it. It is also often more to do with recollection of the pity and fuss recognised in the family at the time. The dog recalls the incident largely by memory of the emotional reaction of the family. Perhaps you have triggered the memory by feeling sorry for the collie, or perhaps the puppy has aroused this reaction.

Don’t underestimate the canine’s ability to manipulate us! With a sibling competing for attention, feelings of vulnerability could well manifest in an attempt to arouse your concern, the object, of course, being extra attention. My Border collie didn’t enjoy obedience class but loved agility. She would limp during obedience lessons, from which attention would naturally be diverted to the ‘sore leg,’ but she’d be perfectly fit for the agility course!

The best way to overcome this problem, as I understand it, is to suppress overt concern for any display of limping. Do not show sympathy. Keep the tone of voice upbeat and carefree. Only happy expressions should be used. If you don’t respond to the lameness, it should cease quite soon.

Please let me know how this resolves. -

Susan Henderson©, ABC accredited animal behaviourist,

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