Puppy Training Helps a German Shepherd Bounce Back from a Surgery Complication

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 18, 2016


15-year-old Westie Yoda (left) lives in Papillion, Nebraska with Cope, a five-month-old German Shepherd. When Cope was neutered last week, there was a complication with the cone that he was wearing to keep him from pulling out his stitches. The complication resulted in a large hot spot on the front of his neck that prevented him from wearing a collar. This also resulted in bites and nips any time the humans touched the hot spot or got near it.

Cope’s guardians set up a puppy training session with me to help him get better with puppy socialization and play, listen to and respect his guardians and assess how to deal with him when it comes to the behavior that started after his surgery complications. Puppy obedience is a skill that requires some practice and instruction; something I am well equipped to do.

Yoda was put in another room when I arrived for the session. Cope met me with a nice healthy puppy-centric greeting; sniffing me for a minute before moving away.

I sat down with his guardians to discuss the situation and get an update on Cope’s rehabilitation. Fortunately things were healing up nicely and because the area wasn’t as sensitive as before, Cope wasn’t reacting with bites and nips. In fact I accidentally touched the area a few times without any protest or correcting from Cope.

After his post surgery incident, Cope’s behavior was erratic and this caused all involved to be a little bit stressed out. Although he is still a puppy, Cope is not a small dog and if we wanted to cause some damage with a bite, he most certainly could.

Cope’s guardians had rearranged their lives and taken off work to supervise him as he could no longer wear the cone. By staying vigilant for a week and a half, he was finally on the mend.

I wanted to see how Cope socialized and interacted with Yoda so I had them let the little Westie out.

Although he played a little rough with Yoda, it wasn’t too bad. Some of his behavior can be chalked up to his being a puppy, some to his being much larger and some to recovering from the complications from surgery.

Yoda was doing a pretty good job of rebuking Cope when he got too excited. Enrolling him in a play or puppy socialization class will go a long way towards helping him learn how to interact and communicate in a proper way with other dogs. It will also help with one of his nuisance behaviors; nipping and mouthing.

While he wasn’t nipping me for touching his sensitive area, he was pretty mouthy. I spent a few minutes going over some tips and suggestions to stop dog nipping and mouthing.

The puppy or socialization class is usually the best method to address these sort of issues, but due to Cope’s size, other puppies his age may correct him harder as this sort of behavior isn’t appropriate at this age. In the right class, Cope will learn, but in the mean time, yelping and offering an appropriate chew item will be very helpful.

Because the guardians were petting their dogs whenever they demanded it, its possible the dogs got the impression they were in a leadership position. To help them change this perception, I suggested that they start to apply my Petting with a purpose strategy.

I suggested that the guardians introduce and start enforcing some rules and boundaries to help the dogs see them as being authority figures. To help the guardians disagree or correct the dogs in ways they understood and respected, I shared some non verbal communication cues with them.

Once we wrapped up the non verbal cue discussion, I had the guardians head into the kitchen for a snack so I could show them how to use what they just learned to enforce a temporary boundary.

It was great to see how well the dog’s responded. As the humans get more practiced with the new cues, their timing and application of them will get sharper.

Because the dogs got over excited and Cope sometimes got a little territorial at the door, I had one of the guardians head outside to play the part of a guest so I could show them how to claim the area around the door.

The dogs responded really well when I was the one answering the door, but what’s important is that the dog’s guardian can do the same thing.

We reset the exercise and this time I coached the guardian through the door answering ritual herself.

Cope was not as easy to redirect for the guardian. In part because the guardian was going side to side rather than forward and to the side. She was also a little hesitant in her movements. When we hesitate in an exercise like this, we communicate to the dog that we are unsure. If the dog thinks it knows what to do and we seem unsure, this can lead them to trying to bypass or ignore us.

The package in the doorway didn’t help either as it gave Cope a little bit of a blocker. In the future, more deliberate movements will help. And if the guardian can turn to put her back to the door while the dogs are behind her, it will only take a sudden and deliberate step right at the dog or well timed hiss that will do the job.

I suggested that the guardians call or text one another when headed home so they can practice this exercise without the pressure of knowing a real guest is waiting. It usually only takes 10-15 practice rounds before the dog starts staying behind the line on their own.

Knowing that Cope hadn’t had a chance to socialize or get some good play in with a new dog due to the complication, I had one of my apprentices bring my mixed breed female Cali into the back yard so I could facilitate an introduction and play date.

It was a little tricky at first as Cope wasn’t sure how to process an adult dog in his yard. But because of Cali’s playful energy and introducing them in a measured and controlled way, within minutes they were running around together.

Now other dogs may not have had the same experience. As I mentioned in the video, I picked Cali for a reason. If you have a reactive dog, bringing another one into their territory can go really wrong, really fast. Don’t try this yourself without the help of an expert unless you are extremely well dialed into your dog and its behavior.

This session went better than I expected. By the end of the session, Cope was showing more respect for people’s personal space, was respecting the boundaries and following his guardian’s commands and corrections right away. In a few weeks the hot spot should be fully healed. Once that is the case, I hope the guardian will,l arrange regular play dates with new dogs of all different ages, breeds, sizes and energy level.

Cope is going to be a big dog. The more social interaction he gets for the next seven months, the more confident and socially adept he will grow to be.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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