Understanding your animal's (bad) behaviour | All Creatures Healing

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Understanding your animal's (bad) behaviour


I often receive calls from animal owners who are concerned that their horse is bucking and rearing, their dog is growling or their cat is hissing whenever they try to touch them. Many owners are quick to chalk these things up to an animal misbehaving. However, in my experience treating animals, an animal's behaviour is usually their way of communicating that something is wrong.

After all, when animals have aches and pains, how do they tell us that they are sore? Typically, they tell us through their behaviour. So, when you notice an animal's so-called 'bad behaviour', you may in fact be picking up on their physical discomfort. Allow me to illustrate with two case studies of animals I have worked with.


When a horse owner rang and complained that their horse was bucking, I went to see the horse. I collected his history, completed a visual assessment of his movement and also identified sore areas in his muscles though palpation.

The horse had sore points around his head indicating sharp teeth (Note: horses need yearly dental checks by a trained equine dentist), a stiff neck, tight pectoral muscles, trigger points in his wither and trapezius muscles, low back pain and tight hamstrings. The muscle soreness suggested that the horse had a poor fitting saddle.

When I went to check the saddle fi t on the horse, the horse's ears were back before the saddle was any where near his back, a strong indication that it was one cause of the soreness. As I put the saddle on the horse's back, it reared, further suggesting that the saddle fit was causing the horse extreme discomfort.

I treated the horse with Bowen therapy and neuromuscular stimulation to release the sore muscles in his back, hamstrings, neck and shoulders. For the pressure in his head, I used some craniosacral. With the pressure in his head eased, the horse was fi t for a dentist appointment, which I suggested to the owner. I also suggested the owner invest in a new saddle with specifications to suit the individual horse.

When I returned to see horse and rider 10 days later, the owner commented on how relaxed the horse was since the treatment. The farrier (the person who looks after the horse's feet) had come to visit and said the horse had been more obliging and the feet easier to trim. The owner had also had a new saddle fitted. I treated the horse again and have continued to see it for regular check ups every couple of months. Over the 2 years since I first treated the horse, its problem with bucking has not recurred. As the horse owner learned, by understanding why the horse was bucking, we could not only correct the behaviour, but ensure the horse was more comfortable and properly cared for. 


I was at an expo when I fi rst met a 4 year old beagle and its owner. The owner explained to me that the beagle yelped when he went to pick it up, growled at the other dog in the family and generally lacked enthusiasm. The owner said the behaviour had been getting worse over the past few months. I had the owner walk the dog around so that I could see its movement. The beagle seemed to be walking sideways rather than in a straight line. This suggested the beagle was sore and probably 'behaving badly' because he was in pain. I gave the beagle a mini Bowen treatment and told the owner to monitor the beagle over the next week for any changes in movement or behaviour and then bring him in for a follow up at the clinic.

I saw the little beagle again about 3 weeks after the expo and the owner said that for the two weeks after the expo he had been playing with the other dog in the family and not yelped while being picked up, but he seemed to be a little touchy in the hind end now. I treated the dog's hips, hamstrings, spinal muscles, abdominals and shoulders. The soreness seemed predominately on his right side, which probably explained his tendency to walk sideways. After another follow up in a fortnight, the beagle was able to walk straight, run and jump and his behavioural problems had not recurred. 

As the owners in these two cases learned, animals can't communicate to their owners with words, and it is up to owners to learn how to listen to an animal's behaviour. So, if you do have issue with how your animal is behaving, it's a good idea to take them to the your animal therapist or vet to check that pain isn't the cause.  By identifying what your animal is trying to communicate through their behaviour, you can improve not only your animal's behaviour but also their quality of life.

Sylvana Miller of All Creatures Healing is a certified Bowen therapist who has also trained in a range of other natural therapies and takes a holistic approach to animal healing.

Written by Sylvana Miller on 1 March 2010