Dog Training With Injured Dogs

One of my students has a young adult, male, Airedale mix. From a distance, he looks more like a Dalmatian, but up close you can see and feel he has much coarser coat. He has turned out to be a very good working dog, and his owner has done a great job with the training homework. But, somehow, he injured himself last week and must be kept inactive for about a month. Here’s where a long-term perspective in dog training makes all the difference. I stay in close contact with all my active students, so I received the following text message: “Hey Sam, I’m sorry to do this but I think I’m going to need to push training to at least a month out. On Sunday i had to take him to the emergency vet after he started crying and yelping while trying to jump or even when I petted him. he’s on medications right now that makes him pretty drowsy, and the vet has him on a limited exercise instructions or anything that would cause him too much strain for about 4 weeks.”

The initial vet diagnosis speculates the dog has back pain, right hip pain, a herniated or bulging disk, or some kind of soft tissue injury. He displays pain, and cries out, if he jumps. They speculate he might have intervertebral disc disease, but that would need to be confirmed with further tests. In the meantime, strict rest and all walks must be on leash and only for purposes of elimination. He’s also on Gabapentin and Trazadone.

We have been training this dog for quite a while. He is well beyond basic obedience, and we have been working on advanced off leash control exercises. Some of my suggestions were as follows: 

“Yeah, [do] slow walks. No jumping. No swimming yet.”

I have worked with injured dogs before. Generally, very slow walking is permitted for basic needs at first. The next stage is slow walks, but not too much distance. Sometimes physical therapy. And lastly, swimming to tone everything up. We have already taught him to walk very well on leash, so the dog is already geared for that. He doesn’t jump on guests, so that is not an issue. He is allowed on furniture, so I told her to block the couch to prevent him from getting up or off. We have also worked on a Place command, so he has a comfortable place to sleep other than just the floor. 

Next: “Disk injuries in people do heal over time, but they are very painful until they do. I don’t know about the healing in dogs. Exercise will help maintain muscle tone and correct posture… through slow walks. The training helps now since you can control him. I would not let him roll around in grass on a leash, so you’ll have to keep him away from that temptation.”

One of this dog’s favorite things to do is to get on grass and roll around. He can’t be allowed to get that close to a lawn for quite a while. He is excellent on a leash and can be commanded to pee and poop on command, so he can be directed.

“This also where (using) Kongs helps, to keep him laying down and calmer when he would rather run around. Use happy talk to counter the stress. The Relax command helps, too. You can put upside down chairs on couches to keep him off. Baby gates to keep him out of a room and off the bed. This is where the Place command helps to get him to lay on a bed… you could reward that with treats. I think you must avoid loading him in and out of the car. Slow stairs, if any, up or down. We worked that at the playground. All those exercises I insert for long term stuff like this, such as when dogs get old, they then are less likely to harm themselves.”

We have worked on having him self-entertain using Kongs and other toys. He’s a young dog, so he will need something to do that keeps him laying down. The owner has a good relationship, and her happy attitude can reduce his stress levels. I was recently contacted by someone that had a dog that had a bad pain reaction to his neuter surgery and started becoming aggressive towards the owner. We don’t want her dog to associate his pain with the owner in this case. We have worked a Relax command, which causes a dog to lay down calmly when asked. We worked a lot of controlled complex walking early on, in public with distractions, so he will be quite maneuverable.

Next: “Keep him from your grandmothers’ dogs so they don’t roughhouse”

Obviously, we can’t have him playing with other family dogs right now.

Lastly, here are other activities I recommended to give him something to do: “You can train Down. Speak. Relax. Place. (Get your) Kong. Slow Heel (with no Sits for now). Stand.”

It is hard for any healthy dog to remain mostly immobile. It is unnatural. Furthermore, the body is programmed to move, in a sense it is the body’s way of doing its own physical rehabilitation. Four weeks is a mighty long time. I’ve seen many dogs that were put through a similar situation and lost their housetraining or became aggressive because of the pain during recovery and rehabilitation. The better trained and socialized a dog is prior to an accident, the better chance the dog has of recovering over time. The only missing piece here is that we didn’t do swimming lessons this summer, but I am guessing I might be in a very cold swimming pool in a month or so if the veterinarian says that is necessary for recovery. It is also a lesson as to why you don’t want dogs to be overweight, because if they get injured it makes the recovery all that more difficult. Fortunately, his weight was pretty good going into this ordeal.

I have also worked with dogs that were fearful and aggressive with the veterinarian. Imagine how this would have complicated things if this had also been a problem for this dog. Emotional problems, such as aggression, and even separation anxiety, complicate recovery for injured dogs. 

Dog training isn’t just to prevent a dog from being a nuisance. It has greater purposes over the long run, especially in case a dog is injured some time in their life. The commands have real world functions when needed. Sometimes I explain the bigger picture and utility of each command so students put in the effort to accomplish them with their dogs. The better the preparation, the less traumatic it will be for the owner and the dog. This dog has a good training foundation and the owner will better be able to manage him than if he had no training at all. 

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