Whether it’s routine or not, the phase of post-surgery recovery where your vet insists on rest is tough.
Your dog or puppy who is used to being a busy little bee, is now told to rest. Which means, you usually have a pup who is … pretty intense and beginning to do their best impression of a kangaroo whilst you worry about their sutures.
Whether your dog has been spayed, neutered, or gone through some other procedure, now is not a time to be taking those chances, huh? Well. This is your ultimate guide to keeping puppy busy, entertained and calm throughout the process so that everyone can recover safely, and happily with no more trips to the vets! Please and thank you.
I’ve separated these into different parts. Because there will be different phases to the recovery of your puppy or dog, the phase where they have to be calm, the phase where they can have limited exercise outside, and then back towards the park – and interactive feeding is always a good idea. So these are tour main parts to consider!
It’s good to note too that you may experience some anxiety with your dog, depending on how long their recovery has been and how well socialized they were beforehand. So it’s a really good idea to make sure you’re just a little cautious when reintroducing them to the world.
What You Can Do In The Home To Keep Your Dog Entertained Post-Surgery.
1 – Scentwork
Whether you’re delving into the early stages of something like mantrailing, or just laying a small, short course of ‘hunt the chicken neck’ (or other tasty treat) in your garden, you can get them using their noses to wander slowly around and trace out the treat. Start small and easy.
I personally use raw chicken necks (Indie’s raw fed, so they’re super cheap and usually give enough of a trail that ours can find them), and i essentially tie it to a string, and drag it around the yard. Then I hide a chicken neck on the trail I’m creating in various places, high, low, under and even a little over to add in some challenge.
Ours have been practicing this for a while, I will say, so start easy. Reward easy, after short distances with good rewards, and adjust as appropriate. Some dogs naturally use their noses a lot more than others (for example, the Lucy, Shelby and Indie are all breeds known for having a powerful snoot, so we could advance them quickly) .
If you’ve got say, a pug? That Brachycephallic little critter may struggle to adjust to this one quickly. So just be aware of your dog and stage the challenge appropriately.
Oh! And if you don’t want to do this with food? You can totally buy things like “Fox smell” or even just choose a smell that they’re not going to find often in your yard, and create trails to a toy!
2 – Hide & Seek
This can be done with a toy, a treat, or with food. I used to practice a sit stay, and then hide one of Indie’s favourite toys around the house. We started easily. I’d pop it in a different room, and somewhere easy in eye-line, and then walk back to where Indie was in his stay and go “Find it!” This meant that he could then race off, search for it, find it, bring it back and we’d engage in a gentle game.
This in itself? Meant that the whole process was rewarding. I then would make it harder and harder. And it got to a point that I knew he was listening when I walked away to figure which room I was in last. Clever little sausage, huh?
So i had to then walk into all the rooms in my place, or just a random selection, and hide it somewhere difficult. In, under, on top of, out of reach, or situations that he had to puzzle out.
My fave? Was that I taught him to pull a rope on a door, moved that to a few handles, and then balanced his crocodile toy on the door.
3 – Puzzles
Then you’ve got the deliberate puzzle toys that the likes of Outward Hound make. These can be great for engagement, and for helping your pup to learn problem solving. Again, when you get one of these make sure they’re sufficiently easy to make sure your dog associates them with good things and doesn’t get bored or frustrated because they’re not getting a reward.
Slowly increase the difficulty (adjusting them if necessary and making the puzzles slightly easier like not closing something all the way, or only doing a couple of the really hard bits if you can) and you’ll start getting some great involvement from your pup where they’re stretching their brains!
4 – Gentle Games Of Tug
Tug is greatly rewarding for a lot of dogs, and it can be minimal movement, but provide great exercise nonetheless. Keep it slow and gentle, but side wiggles, nothing crazy, and let them win, let them win lots and lots! This is their reward, the thing they want (as well as the interaction with you), so doing this will help you and them bond too… Win win, right?
My fave tug toys are those by Tug-E-Nuff – they’re really resilient and why they made it into our 2021’s Best Puppy Toys.
Using Interactive feeding Post-Surgery To Entertain Your Dog.
There are hundreds of toys and ways to feed interactively. Whether you’re using ingenious toys, slow feeders, or something more DIY – there’s a solution for all.
Scatterfeeding works great for kibble fed dogs, and essentially? You go scatter the kibble around your yard and let them sniff it out. Initially when you try this, try it with no grass, maybe on your patio or a path, and don’t scatter over too wide an area.
Essentially, it turns a gobbler into a grazer as they use their nose to locate the kibble, and then fish it out from between grass, it’s like an all natural snuffle mat!
6 – Search boxes
You know when amazon sends you that huge ass box for that charge cable you ordered, and then stuffs it full of paper? Well, this is a perfect new use for that box and it’s contents (except the charge cable, keep that one safe and away from all puppies please!), but wrap you can wrap paper around treats, or kibble, or even toys (or even mix the three?) and hide it in the box.
Then, scatter some loose treats on top and watch your dog start searching through the box.
Really rewarding and a great way to make new use out of amazon’s sucky-over boxing habits!
(personally, I love doing that with chewy boxes too! Though theres tend to be much more appropriately sized, I will say!)
7 – Kongs, Toppls & Buffalo Horns
As interactive feeding goes, this is definitely the most common option. Stuffing a kong (toppl, or buffalo horn) is a great way to keep your dog relaxed and help them put their mind into something else.
My guide to this one can be found in How To Kong and some Recipe ideas too. These apply equally for kongs, toppls and buffalo horns, they’re just different shapes and provide a slightly different challenge for your pup!
8 – Kong Wobblers
Great for kibble fed dogs, these can be bought in various sizes and they essentially knock the wobbler around and kibble falls out. It’s a little bit of a game, slow feeding method, and a way to make their brain work just a little more for their kibble!
They can keep them entertained, playing gently and engaging with their food. They’re a great option for stimulating a recovering dog.
9 – Trick Training
You can pick up new things to do that are gentle and don’t involve your dog throwing themselves around.
Great ideas for this?
- Lay down
- Loose leash walking
- Capturing calmness
- Desensitise claw clipping
- Teach how to use a scratch board
You could even start venturing into some conditioning! You can also look at 5 Fun & Practical Tricks For Your Puppy To Learn for some ideas.
Alternative Walking Plans For Your Recovering Pooch
Introducing gentle exercise for your recovering dog is really important. It helps them to introduce themselves back into the world gently.
10 – Sniffaris
This one is essentially a really gentle walk, where you focus your dog on smelling the world around him or her as opposed to just ploughing through it.
You can start this by dropping little bits of food throughout their walk and getting their nose to the floor if they don’t do this naturally, and encourage them to engage with things, whether it’s a tree, or a piece of trash (provided they won’t eat it!!). All things offer new and interesting smells, remember! The colour in the world comes from smell to your dog.
11 – Backpack walks in the yard or other secure field
The backpack walk is a wonderful thing, it’s something that you and your woof can bond over and enjoy spending some time together in quiet contemplation whilst getting some fresh air and working minds.
Essentially? The backpack walk is where you grab a bag (it doesn’t have to be a backpack) and you fill it full of interesting things, something novel, something that makes sound, something that smells, something edible (by you both) and you — you may wish to also include a blanket.
Then you, your backpack and your dog go off to somewhere quiet and walk a little way, sit down, and you begin to discover whats in the backpack.
Soft soft voices and delicate touches should be used to make the game intriguing. Discover on of these things together, and pop it away. Then close up the bag, walk along a little more and discover something new from the back. And don’t be afraid to make things make sound.
This gentle way of interacting with all the objects try to stimulate the senses with your choices, (pick one for each perhaps!) touch, smell, sight, sound, and taste.
Just… try not to turn it into a picnic? The objects should not be just food!
And when you’ve thoroughly explored each of the objects? Then head home.
You’d be surprised how effective this one is.
12 – What About Stores?
Did you know there’s a whole bunch of stores that allow patrons with 4 paws and a waggy tail?
The following stores are friendly towards pets who are well behaved and socially acceptable. This DOES mean that they are expected to not go picking up the products or rooting through floor level baskets. Some shops (Tractor Supply, PetCo, PetSmart & PetsAtHome) are a little more lenient on that requirement, but it’s still good to make sure your fundamentals are in place.
Local Pet Stores Ace Hardware
Autozone Barnes and Noble Bass Pro ShopBebe Bed, Bath & Beyond Bloomingdales Crate and Barrel Foot Locker Free People GAP Gap Home Depot Home Goods JoAnn Fabrics Kohls
LowesLush Cosmetics *
Macy’s Marshalls Michaels Neiman Marcus Nordstrom Old Navy
Pottery BarnRestoration Hardware Saks Fifth Avenue Saturn car dealershipsThe Container StoreTJ MaxxTractor SupplyUrban Outfitters
Local Pet Stores
AppleH&MJohn LewisMetro BankPetsAtHomeWilkoWren Kitchens
*Whilst this one is pet friendly, please don’t put your dog through that! The smell in here can be overwhelming for humans, let alone for dogs!
Heading to one of these places could give you a great chance to introduce your dog to new places, smells, sights and sounds which can really help to stimulate your dog without running them into the ground or forcing them to play with other dogs.
It is entirely possible to tire out your dog
You can also work on focus and socialization (That doesn’t involve other dogs!). Short walks around stores can be great for this as well as teaching a wonderful loose leash.
I’ll be following up at some point with a dogs in public places etiquette guide, and more full lists of places where dogs are permitted (as pets and not service dogs)
Plenty of Ideas!
I love giving you guys these ideas for how to help your pup to get through their recovery with them. It’s never an easy thing to go through. Remember to take it at your dogs pace, and err on the side of caution. A little extra caution now, could save your dog a lot of pain in the future. Be smart about these things, and use these solutions to tire out your dog or puppy without the need for exercise.
These tips are also plenty actionable for creating a day where you don’t walk, or you don’t take physical exercise. These can be great ‘rest’ days for you and them, or even on days where you’re physically restricted.
And as always? If you need more help with your puppy? Go sign up for our pupdates, there’s no value like them in the training industry, and they’re a product you’ll love!
Need help? Book a bark day!
Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!