CAM blogs

CAM Meets Rosie Bescoby

Rosie Bescoby BSc (Hons), PG Dip CABC

Rosie owns and runs Pet Sense based in Bristol and North Somerset. With a degree in Zoology & Psychology from the University of Bristol & a Post-Graduate Diploma in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling from Southampton University, she is a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (No. 1006), and registered as both a Clinical Animal Behaviourist & as an Animal Training Instructor with the Animal Behaviour & Training Council (the regulatory body that represents trainers & behaviourists to both the public & to legislative bodies). She has 2 elderly dogs, Freddie – an 11 year old black Labrador and Spice – a 13 year old JRTx. Rosie regularly writes articles both for veterinary press and for dog owners.


Rosie Kindly agreed to answer the following questions:

What are your feelings on how we currently manage this common debilitating condition in dogs?

The problem that I experience over and over again is that there is generally a poor understanding of what chronic pain is and what it ‘looks’ like. For example, owners will often be confused and say things like, ‘but he doesn’t yelp/ he still wants to go for walks/ still plays with other dogs/ still chases the ball’ etc. There is also, in my experience, a poor understanding of the link between pain and behaviour. Where there is a poor understanding, there is poor compliance (why would an owner invest time and money, or change their own behaviour, helping a dog they don’t believe requires help?!). Also, owners often don’t recognise the severity because their dog has aged and arthritic conditions have deteriorated gradually over time – when you see something everyday you don’t see the decline.

I have the benefit of seeing dogs in their home environment where they are most relaxed, which is so helpful when observing the dog and its natural movement – they’re not stressed and tense, or fuelled with adrenaline like they can be in the vet practice.

Where owners do recognise signs of arthritis or believe the vet in their diagnosis, medication and other treatments may be underway but then I visit the home environment only to find slippery floors that the dog is struggling to navigate or that risk injury. So I think continuing to educate in terms of management within the home environment and the significant effect poor management has on the dog is really important.


As a clinical animal behaviourist what do you feel is essential for managing canine arthritis effectively?

A better understanding that the dog is in pain and the implications of pain on the dog’s behaviour. Then understanding that a holistic approach is required, and pain relief is just one (important) part of the treatment. Also the understanding that it can take time to find effective treatment(s) and just because the first thing the vet prescribes doesn’t quickly resolve the symptoms, doesn’t mean pain isn’t part of the equation.

Where the dog is exhibiting undesirable behaviour, the behaviourist and referring vet will need to work closely together – the behaviour is not going to improve whilst there is underlying pain, and behaviour modification is likely to be required even once pain is better controlled because of what the dog has learnt whilst in pain. Learning will occur via associative learning (i.e. certain stimuli or activities equal pain and therefore those stimuli or activities are unpleasant, or even scary) and also via operant conditioning (e.g. a dog anticipates an oncoming child may cause pain so growls in an attempt to repel them. A parent intervenes and removes the child. The dog learns that growling is a successful strategy in repelling a potential threat. It was also less demanding for the dog than getting up and moving away from the child would have been, because of the underlying arthritis! This learning cannot be undone, so even when pain is no longer anticipated, growling may be used in situations the dog wants distance away from something because it has previously been a successful strategy in creating space).

SLOWING DOWN – again, it comes back to understanding, but getting owners to really slow their walks down and go at their dog’s pace rather than marching on ahead, putting psychological pressure on the dog to keep up despite that not being their natural pace anymore and it being uncomfortable for them to do so. Making walks more of a mooch and letting the dog sniff, so focusing on gentle exercise. Being their dog’s advocate when it comes to interactions with other dogs – young dogs who the arthritic dog might find too boisterous or who might initiate play that’s beyond the physical limits of the arthritic dog. Or perhaps throwing balls for their dog because the dog still chases the ball – because adrenaline will mask pain at the time, but the dog will feel the physical effects of over-exertion afterwards. Owner behaviour is more likely to change with greater understanding.


How do you see treatment options for arthritis progressing over the next ten years?

I am not sure I’m the right person to answer this, but I hope that general understanding of what chronic pain is, what it can ‘look’ like and doesn’t look like, and the implications on a dog’s behaviour and welfare will improve. Then hopefully compliance relating to the different treatment options will improve.

CAM is a fantastic resource for owners to do their own research, and for vets to provide owners where time discussing everything related to arthritis or chronic pain is so often restricted in the practice.


If you could have the opportunity to give one tip/ piece of advice to an owner with a dog suffering from arthritis what would it be?

Don’t underestimate the effect of pain on behaviour. Where there is underlying pain, there WILL be an effect on behaviour, even if it isn’t undesirable from a human point of view (e.g. sleeping more).


Rosie Bescoby
BSc (Hons), PG Dip CABC
Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers No. 1006
Full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors
Animal Behaviour & Training Council Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist
APBC Press & Media Officer
T: 07512 203734