Training a sick dog

Your Sick Pooch and Training

In Animal Health, Dog Behavior, dog training, Pet First Aid, Pet Industry, Uncategorized by Cara Armour2 Comments

I’m excited to bring you a guest post today from a BlogPaws friend. Rosemary shares wonderful information today with us all the way from South Africa! While her words come from a far, Rosemary brings up a great topic that needs to be brought into our homes. Some troubles we may be having with training, may in fact stem from our dog’s overall health. When you don’t feel well, its hard for you learn – that holds true for our pets as well.

How Illness Affects Our Dogs in Training

As a pooch parent, you’ve most likely experienced the psychological effects of illness on your dog at some point. Maybe without knowing it. One of my readers, Carol went through this and I have been working with her to help her pup, Buster.

Buster was diagnosed with Chronic Giardia. Which seems to be very resistant to treatment.

It’s really affecting his training, and his opportunities to socialize.

At one point her hubby was considering surrendering Buster because he was (and still is) sometimes impossible.

What Carol found with Buster is on some days he’d be super bright and responsive. And on other days he’d be withdrawn, out of control or un-cooperative.

This is not due to a lack of trying on Carol’s part.

So between the 2 of us we’ve tried to find creative ways to help the little guy.

But first, let’s looks at how to tell there’s something out of whack with your pup’s health. And how training is affected when there’s illness.

Signs that Your Dog Might be Under the Weather

  • Mood swings.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns.
  • Changes in bowel movements and urination patterns.
  • Loss of interest.
  • Agitation.
  • Aggression.
  • Separation anxiety.
  • Hiding.

How Illness in Our Dogs Affect Their Ability to Focus and Learn

I think it’s safe to compare how our dogs feel when they’re ill to the way we feel when we’re feeling poorly.

And if you’re like me, you’re not interested in doing anything when you’re sick.

It’s difficult to keep a straight head. And all you want to do is hide under the covers.

Your body aches and you feel sluggish and tired. It’s hard to focus or concentrate when we’re sick.

And if I’m honest, I tend to be a little moody when I’m not feeling well.

And it’s no different for our dogs.

Fight or Flight

When our best friends are sick, their ability to concentrate, focus and subsequently to learn are impaired.

This is especially true with puppies. Their little brains are still developing – and at a massive rate.

It’s difficult for them to perform any behaviors they’ve learned in past training sessions. And their moods fluctuate.

So, their natural instinct is to revert to fight or flight.

And when they’re put into a high pressure situation like a training session, they can become agitated, aggressive, rowdy and un-cooperative.

How to Train a Sick Pooch

First things first, you’ve got to have your pooch checked out by your vet. And get a diagnosis.

Once you have a diagnosis and a treatment plan you can start researching the symptoms.

You might be wondering why studying the symptoms is important.

Even although your pooch will be on some form of treatment. You can be sure that they will still experience symptoms. And possibly side effects from treatment.

Knowing these symptoms will give you the best chance of creating a training program around your dog’s needs.

Let’s take Buster as an example…

Imagine for a moment Buster is your dog…

Giardia can cause abdominal cramps, bloating, gas and nausea. Not a comfortable feeling.

So Buster will likely be agitated, act up and be difficult during a training session.

Now, you might be thinking there’s some long drawn out way to work with Buster.

But there isn’t. It’s pretty simple…

Firstly, get some bland training treats. What I mean by bland is a treat with as little as possible in the way of ingredients.

You don’t want something that might flare up his insides. Something like a boiled chicken breast would work well. Keep his symptoms in mind here.

Set out x-amount of pieces for the day. Let’s use 50 as an example. You’ll need a treat pouch if you’re using cooked meat. And have your clicker handy.

Now you’re ready to use a training method called capturing, throughout the day.

Capturing means each time Buster does ANYTHING you love, he gets a reward.

Say he’s sitting quietly at the door…

You’ll capture that behavior with a click and reward with a piece of chicken.

Let’s say you find him lying quietly on his bed or mat.

Capture that behavior with a click and a reward.

See him self-playing with one of his toys?

Click and reward!

So 50 times during the day you’re looking for behaviors you want to cement into Buster’s manners.

Capturing is magic!

And Buster will quickly learn these captured behaviors are favorable.

Training this way, instead of trying to set up a formal ‘classroom’ is the perfect way to catch Buster in the moments when he’s feeling good.

This way, Buster is not expected to concentrate. Which we all know is difficult to do when we’re feeling sick.

When he’s feeling good, he’s able to focus. He’s receptive to learning. And he’s a whole lot easier to train.

Instead of taking the risk of picking a moment when he’s feeling off-ish to train.

What I’ve shared here is one of many training plans that could work for Buster or any other pooch who’s feeling under the weather.

You know your dog best, so you’ll need to think outside the box to help your dog learn.

How to Stimulate Your Sick Dog Physically

Think about it…

You have a ton of objects in your home that you can use to stimulate your dog physically.

You could build an obstacle course with anything from broomsticks and boxes to tables and chairs. Pretty much anything in your home can be used. As long as they are safe.

Give your pup free reign to explore each object, surface and texture. And coax them along with your clicker and treats.

If your pooch can’t explore out there in the big wide world, this kind of activity will give them the physical stimulation they need. And it also has the benefit of stimulating their minds.

And, when they get tired or loses focus just pack it in and let them rest.

How to Stimulate Your Sick Dog Mentally

Puzzle games are an awesome way to get those mental juices flowing!

Your pup has olfactory senses up to 40 times more powerful than yours. And you can use this to the advantage of your puppy.

You don’t need anything fancy either…

A simple muffin pan, paper cups and a few healthy treats will do the trick.

Pop treats randomly into the holes of the muffin pan and cover them with the cups.

Then let your pup loose to sniff out the treats. Easy as pie!

There are so many ways you can make up games to stimulate your pup while they are at home recovering.

If you want to find out more about some great games to play, I’ve written a review of Brain Training for Dogs. A program that’s worthwhile getting.

How to Socialize a Sick Puppy or Dog

So we’re sticking with Buster here…

Socializing is an important part of dog training.

Of course in Buster’s case Giardia is highly contagious from dog to dog. So, hooking up with other pooches is off-limits.

Luckily there are other ways to socialize our pooches. But you’ve got to think outside the box…

People Watching

I’ll admit, secretly I’m a people watcher – okay, not so secret anymore!

Anyway, taking your pooch on a people watching trip is a great way to socialize them without the risk of spreading infections.

Head out to some place busy.

Like a park, the beach or even the parking lot of a mall. Roll down the windows and watch life go by with your best friend.

You might think that’s not much socializing. But being exposed to sounds, sights and even smells will benefit your dog.

And you’ll be surprised at how many folks will stop to say “hi!”. Excellent exposure for your pup.

It’s a great exercise for a dog that can be edgy due to pain and discomfort.

There’s no pressure and there’s still the safety of the car – and you – if they become overwhelmed, tired or grumpy.

Throw a Party

Inviting a bunch of friends and family over is a great way to socialize a sick pup who can’t mingle outside of the house.

Of course, your guests should not be pooch parents.

Giardia is not easily transferred from dogs to humans. †But you should consider later exposure to little children. †So in Buster’s case I wouldn’t recommend doing this.

But if your dog has something that’s not contagious, then break out the party hats!

Check with your vet first before planning any meet and greets.

Desensitize Them to Sounds

Getting your pup used to as many different sounds as possible is super important to make them as bomb proof as possible.

Pups do go through fear periods during their development and that’s totally normal.

But it’s wise to expose them slowly to different sounds.

If you patient is not a puppy, it’s still great to expose them to sounds.

So while your pup is “booked off sick” you can spend time at home playing an audio made up of sounds like:

  • Fireworks.
  • Barking dogs.
  • Crying babies.
  • Motorcycles.
  • Crowds.

And pretty much any other sounds you can think of.

There are audio CD’s or digital downloads you can buy. But there are a ton of websites where you can download hundreds of sounds for free.

You can use a free audio software and loop them all together. So long as you don’t violate the copyright of the creators by selling or distributing them you’ll be just fine.

Don’t Forget About Sleep

Of course, sleep is essential to a full recovery. And if you happened to have a sick puppy, they’ll need plenty of sleep for their growing bodies and brains.

So make sure your buddy gets enough rest throughout the day too. Overexertion is just as bad as no training or stimulation. So keep a healthy balance.

This too Shall Pass

If you landed here looking for ways to help your sick pooch with training, I hope this has been helpful.

Remember, this too shall pass!

With a good treatment protocol, a healthy diet and rest it won’t be long before your dog is back to their old self.

About Our Guest Blogger

Rosemary is the founder of German Shepherd Corner. She lives in sunny South Africa with her husband, 2 German Shepherds Charley and ZË and her limited edition pup, Lexi.
When she’s not playing hide-and-seek with her crew, or pouring over the latest dog behavior studies, she’s preparing delicious raw food for her dogs.


  1. My dog has distemper…. i tried many ways but he is getting worst… i don’t want to lose him any thing that can help please

    1. Author

      Hi Dale,
      I would recommend that you definitely get to your vet!

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