5 Ways To Continue Training When Your Pup Is Laid Up

There is nothing worse than a dog with an injury. You can’t tell him why he can’t fly around the house or explain to her why she can’t go for that two mile walk she is used to.

I just went through this with my youngest dog, Merlin. At almost 3, he is full of energy and is used to doing herding or agility – or both – every day. So when he tore his paw and had to wear a cone as well as a wrapped sock, he just didn’t get it. Worse, he re-ripped the covering while tearing around on the carpet because sitting still is not something he likes to do. It took an entire month for that darn paw to heal.

That’s a long time for a high-drive, low self-control dog to sit out on his training. He got downright depressed about not “doing something” every day…

Image source: A Fairytail House
Merlin, sad and detached from things with his cone on. Image source: A Fairytail House

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade right?!

Any time your dog is laid up is a perfect time to go back to some basics! You might be surprised at all the things you can do to keep training your dog while he is recovering from an injury. And, since they are distracted with the training, you can usually take the cone off giving them a nice break from the cone of shame.

Here are some of the things you can work on with almost any type of injury or illness to keep you and your pup from going crazy while she is on the mend. Don’t forget to check with your vet before doing anything that may affect your dog’s healing time and ability.

1. Strengthening Stays

There are all sorts of stays you can work on while your dog is not supposed to be moving around! Sit or down (it might depend on the injury whether you can do one or both), stays in his kennel, mat stays, etc. are good to practice. Mat stays are great for dogs with an injury where they need to be on something soft. You can even use a thick dog bed! And, if you’re allowed, remember you don’t have to stay inside, you can still get some fresher air while keep your dog calm by working on stay (or other mat work) outside!

For tips to strengthen stays, click here.

Image source: @TijsB via Flickr
Image source: @TijsB via Flickr

2. Crate Refresher

Now is a great time to refresh those crate skills! Not just stay, but remaining quiet in the crate for longer periods of time and remaining calm with distractions. With the latter, remember to BE CAREFUL as you don’t want him to get riled up and injur himself more, so be cautious with that type of training.

Image source: @DanielRossi via Flickr
Image source: @DanielRossi via Flickr

3. Simple Tricks

There are a lot of tricks out there that only use part of your dog’s body, so you could easily teach some new tricks depending on the injury. For example, wave, high-five, and shake all use just the front paws, so as long as your dog can sit or stand for a bit, he can learn any of these. The “praying dog” pose (where he puts he head down on his paws that are up on a chair), might be another one you can teach him.

Have an injured paw that your dog is already limping around on? Why not teach your dog to “limp” using that? It’s easy to shape something your dog is already doing!

Image source: @bradleypjohnson via Flickr
Image source: @bradleypjohnson via Flickr

4. Reinforce Your Recall

One of the best ways to reinforce your “come” command is by strengthening the association between that command word and a reward. If you have a dog that can’t do much but sit around right now, this is an easy and great thing to do (especially if you have trouble with recalls!). All you have to do is say your recall word then immediately give a high-value treat. Repeat. Maybe do ten or twenty times a day. That’s a lot of conditioning! Soon, your dog is going to practically drool when he hears that word (just like Pavlov’s dogs and the bell!), and he will be a lot more likely to come running when he hears it!

Image source: @LaineTrees via Flickr
Image source: @LaineTrees via Flickr

5. “Leave It” Work

Another very important behavior that is easy to work on with a dog that is laid up is “leave it.” Work on upping the value of the thing you are asking your dog to leave. Have a dog that leaves something for a second (just long enough to be rewarded) and then goes back to it? Start asking your dog to leave it and then delaying your reward (first just a second or two). Work on building the time up so when your dog leaves something, it’s a permanent “leave it.”  Feel like a challenge? This is a great time to work on teaching your dog to balance a treat on his nose!

Image source: @JJLosier via Flickr
Image source: @JJLosier via Flickr

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