Julie Harris Grooming: Is My Dog In Pain? | DogLife360
DogFest 2022
DogFest 2022

Julie Harris Grooming: Is My Dog In Pain?

Not all dog communication is obvious. Many people ask; "Is my dog in pain, how can I tell?" We can usually read signs of pain such as limping, yelping or demonstrating aggression. But being able to read your dog’s body language is a great way of understanding chronic pain, such as arthritis. Pain that they might be experiencing over longer periods of time.

Is my Dog in Pain?

A dog’s posture is a big indicator. Like humans, dogs use their heads as a counterbalance to facilitate all movements. To stand up, their head has to come forward to shift the weight and lift their bottom. When standing, a dog needs to be able to move its head to allow itself to balance.  

Fit dogs hold their heads high

A young, fit dog will generally hold its head high and you can see a lovely arch in its neck.

a healthy dog stance head held high

Dog's in pain stand like a table

If a dog is in pain or uncomfortable in the hip and spine areas, this arch will flatten as the head becomes too heavy to be held upright and it will dip forward, making the head and spine appear to be in one straight line. This has the benefit of releasing pressure in a dog’s rear end. Additionally, a dog will bring its rear legs forward, so they sit under the body, creating more of a stable square shape – like a table.

A black dog showing signs of pain

A dipped head means a visit to the vet 

If you see your dog starting to dip its head, then it may be worth asking your vet for a check-up. The more the head stays dipped, the thicker the neck muscles get, and you will notice your dog’s body shape-changing. 

READ MORE: 6 Signs your Dog has Arthritus

Pain sits under the surface

As well as posture change there are signs of trauma under the skin that you can also read. Spider’s webs are a great way to understand more about how the anatomy of how a dog’s body is linked together. The ‘web’ in a dog’s body is called ‘fascia’.

Fascia is a network of connective tissue that secures the whole of the dog together. It’s around every muscle, bone, artery, vein, organ and nerve.

READ MORE: Sniffing Out COVID - Our Dogs Amazing Sniffing Ability

All bodies have it and if you are preparing chicken to cook, you can see fascia really easily, just under the skin. It’s translucent white and resists when you pull back the skin from the flesh.

fascia in the raw chicken
Fascia under the skin of a chicken

This resistance is strength and gives support to a dog’s body and enables it to move smoothly. It allows the bones and joints of the dog to slide and glide giving a fluid movement and grace.

READ MORE: Julie Harris Grooming: 3 Minutes Daily Makes All The Difference

Like a spider’s web when you ‘ping’ one corner, the rest of the web either crumbles or is affected. Like a web, if one area of fascia becomes damaged because it is connective tissue and works as a transmission network, other parts of the body will also be affected.

Spiders Web

Fascia is really important as it influences posture and mobility. It is made of pure COLLAGEN which ensures everything returns to its original shape and HYALURONIC ACID which retains water and keeps everything lubricated, moist and smooth gliding. When you think about a fit dog running and how everything works together it’s like a well-oiled machine.

It's easy for dogs to damage their fascia

Unfortunately, through daily life, fascia can get damaged; through straining or frequently jumping on and off furniture, slipping, being dehydrated, experiencing trauma and also through ageing as collagen diminishes as dogs get older.

How to tell if your dog's fascia is damaged

There are ways that we can see the impact of damaged fascia, even though it is under the skin’s surface. The skin may look ‘tight’ or be ‘twitching’. There may be areas where the hair flicks up where it hasn’t done so before due to the skin tightening.

READ MORE: Julie Harris Grooming: Understanding Breeds Needs

Sometimes the dog may yelp for no obvious reason or develop a restricted range of movement. Dogs may also start to overly lick or have a ‘tickle spot’ where when you touch one area, a different part of the body reacts. All of these things are signs that the connective tissue may be damaged, and the network isn’t working as well as it should.

Help your dog to stay healthy with massage

As owners, there are massage techniques you can use to help keep fascia smooth and free moving which dogs love and provide a great bonding experience. Simple ‘skin rolling’ where you lift an area of skin and move along the body’s surface, passing the skin between your fingers as you go. If you bath your dog at home, this is a lovely thing to do for them whilst they are in the bath.

Keeping the fascia pliable

Think of yourself, when you go to the hairdresser and they massage your scalp during the wash, that relaxing ‘Ah’ factor can be created for your pet. It works because it reminds muscles what they can do which improves flexibility and keeps fascia pliable and therefore less prone to damage.

A sleeping dog gets a massage

Observe your dog

Take some time to observe your dog and maybe even film them walking and running to document changes over time. Give them pleasure by skin rolling, next time you sit with them, or when they are in the bath. You’ll find it is very much appreciated!


For more great tips on grooming take a look at:

Julie Harries Grooming:  What Your Groomer Needs To Know


Julie Harris Dog Grooming Education was founded to share Julie’s knowledge with groomers and owners alike with the goal of creating harmonious relationships that benefit dogs and the care of their skin and coat. 


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