Dog Rehabilitation & Physical Therapy… Two Things We Never Asked For In Life

SarahAnxiety Issues, Dog Training6 Comments

It’s been a little over a year since I received shoulder surgery to repair my loose right shoulder. There’s nothing as perplexing as reaching for something out of your book bag in the back seat of the car and dislocating a shoulder. This experience of dislocation happened several times. All unexpected and all while doing normal everyday activities. I didn’t anticipate it… it just happened out of the blue. And each time it happened, my shoulder got more and more loose, and the likelihood of experiencing another dislocation got greater and greater over time

How does this all relate to dog training? Whereas there’s no physical surgery that can magically repair our dog’s worst behaviors, such as aggression or separation anxiety, “rehabilitation time,” or the time it takes to modify behaviors can be long and slow. Say, for example, that you have a dog that is reactive to other dogs. You see a dog walking down the street… You tense up… Your dog tenses up… There’s barking, lunging, teeth baring and more. The owner of the other dog decides that both you and your dog are crazy, and they move as far away as possible as quickly as possible.

You are mortified, beet red with embarrassment and want to go home immediately and drink heavily. Your dog, on the other hand, thinks that he’s done his job and done it well. The scary dog and owner left after all, didn’t they? Mission accomplished. Well, the more opportunity your dog gets to reenact this scenario, the better he becomes at it. Like my shoulder, your dog becomes “looser” and more likely to snap at any given moment. The undesirable behavior is more likely is to happen with greater and greater frequency.

Your dog needs rehabilitation from what ails him. It’s time to stop the metaphorical bleeding. First, in the above scenario, if your walks are solely about getting your dog exercise, there are other ways to accomplish help your dog expend extra energy inside the home. (See here for some good ideas). Or, you can schedule walks on non-peak times to avoid as many uncomfortable encounters as possible.

The best thing you can do, though, is contact a dog trainer or animal behaviorist for professional behavior modification help using positive training methods. Your dog may not be able to overcome his issues with just training alone, though. It may need the help of your veterinarian for a medical checkup first before behavior modification can be its most successful. Like my shoulder, there may need to be some medical intervention (the vet), but then you have to go to the physical therapist (the trainer) where the behavioral rehabilitation can occur.For me, physical therapy was bittersweet. It started out wonderfully with friendly faces, a soothing hot compress on my shoulder and reading the latest People magazine gossip on J-Lo and Marc Antony’s breakup.(In case you had wondered, she was working too much, he was resentful and resorted to cheating.) Then it progressed to never-ending weightlifting and unbearably painful stretching exercises. There were even times when I had people sitting on me to keep my torso still during arm stretches. Not only that, but once they were done with the torture, the physical therapist sent me home to torture myself with more
exercises!
Again, you ask… how does this relate to dog rehabilitation? When you determine that you can’t handle your dog’s behavior on your own and you seek the help of a trainer and/or a behaviorist, understand that there will be no quick fixes. The road to recovery may be long and painful. The heavy duty learning will take place in your scheduled training sessions, but you will have to do the majority of the work on your own. You’ll have a team of professionals to help you, but sometimes, you’ll need the support of others like friends and family to “sit on you” to ensure that you and your dog are being as successful
as possible.It’s been a year and I can honestly say that my shoulder feels about 90%. There are days that it’s sore and still needs some time under a hot pad and some lengthy stretching. But it is much, much better.

Similarly, your dog’s rehabilitation may take a while. Be prepared for times when you feel like your dog may have experienced a behavioral setback, and it’s time to “stretch” your dog’s learning with some additional focused training sessions at home, or even with your trainer.

I honestly don’t know if my arm will ever be 100%. I want to think that it will be eventually with time and more work, but can’t say for sure. Similarly, it is my job as a responsible trainer to tell clients that their dog may never be 100%. Your reactive dog may never be a “dog park dog” or “bomb-proof,” just like I know I will never compete in the Olympic discus throw event.We never asked for dog rehabilitation or physical therapy in life’s work. I do know this, though… I now have the peace of mind that allows me to focus on more productive things in life, rather than obsessing about the next time my shoulder will dislocate.Working within a supportive network of animal medical and behavior professionals, and dedicating the time at home to rehabilitating your dog’s behavior, can give you that much-needed comfort and peace of mind that you might be seeking, too.

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