Restrictions? What Restrictions?

Titan leash walking after surgery on his shoulders

‘Exercise restrictions are the best part of every physical rehabilitation protocol”,  said no dog ever. If you’ve been through it, you understand the challenges of “no running, no jumping, no playing, leashed potty walks only” to seem insurmountable. I know, because I’ve been there myself with my own dog. And I see the involuntary eyes glazed, deer in the headlights look my clients give me as if I’m speaking a foreign language when, for the umpteenth I remind them not to allow off leash activity.

In the most basic of analogies, this situation is probably comparable to taking a 2 or 3 year old child out to a fancy restaurant for every meal of every day for 3-4 months and then taking them back home and locking them in their room. Luckily, there are ways to get through the restrictions without feeling like everyone is in solitary confinement or on the brink of needing professional psychological evaluations and treatment.

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.  Be prepared. Always assume, that at some point in your dog’s life, there will be a requirement of activity restriction – be it after an elective surgical procedure or the ever popular cruciate surgery. Some common issues/solutions that occur with these restrictions include:
    • Teach your dog to potty on-leash. I, for one, am always amazed at how many dogs do not understand that they can, in fact, assume the posture to defecate or urinate while on leash.
    • Teach your dog to enjoy being in a kennel, crate or pen.
    • Teach your dog to walk quietly on leash, without pulling or lunging.
    • Teach your dog how to safely use a dog ramp for loading and unloading out of a vehicle.
    • Teach your dog how to lay down on one side or the other while you “inspect” various body parts.
    • Don’t get sucked into a daily routine that is filled with only with high energy, exuberant activity. Contrary to popular belief, dogs don’t actually NEED to go to the dog park EVERY day, nor do they NEED to play chuck it. Having a good off switch can be a life saver for many different reasons.
  2. Give your dog food-toys. When your dog is restricted to crate rest, getting a food toy, such as a Kong, filled with mashed up food then frozen is a great way to keep them busy while also letting them work for their meals. (Be sure to check with your vet or rehab professional first!)
  3. Do your exercises! Home exercises should give your dog as much of a mental work-out as a physical work-out.
  4. Learn something new with your dog. Learning a new training technique, such as clicker training, can be fun while building a connection with your dog.  Many training of the games can be very low impact or even stationary and even more can be implemented as strengthening exercises.
  5. Change your perspective. Look at restrictions as a way to finally get that training into your dog that you’ve been putting off. Make it a game. How many steps can your take without you or your dog pulling on the leash? What fun party tricks can your dog show off at the end of recovery? How can you help your dog recover better? Having surgery or an injury is definitely not fun, but it doesn’t have to include solitary confinement.

Most importantly, enjoy the time that you have with your dog. Do what you can to help your dog recover while remembering that these creatures are their own beings and we can’t control every single action or reaction. Engaging with them in a positive way will strengthen your connection so use the time wisely – you might be surprised at what you learn about yourself and your dog.





Help your dog by learning to recognize mild orthopedic pain


One of the hardest aspects of monitoring dog health and wellness for many people, is the ability to recognize and acknowledge mild to moderate orthopedic pain. Because mild to moderate orthopedic pain can eventually lead to more significant changes in function, the sooner we manage it, the better the long term outcome will be. For your dog, that may mean added years of fun activity with you!

Why is it hard to recognize mild orthopedic pain in dogs?

  • We don’t know what we don’t know. It takes years of experience to visualize the changes associated with mild orthopedic pain.
  • Dogs don’t speak english and humans don’t speak dog. We rely on observation of changes in behavior and function.
  • Many times changes in behavior or function associated with orthopedic pain are so gradual that we do not perceive them until they are blatantly obvious.
  • Dogs seem to have an amazing ability to tolerate pain and discomfort.
  • Mild pain is just that – until it’s not. It generally does not affect a dog’s desire to participate in life’s daily activities, so is less likely to be treated.

Like all health related concerns, orthopedic pain is best prevented – easier said than done given that many orthopedic conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia are congenital. If it can’t be prevented, the sooner it is treated the more likely treatment will be successful and the more likely your dog will lead a more functional, comfortable and happier life.

Five ways to help you asses mild orthopedic pain.

  1. Posture.
    1. Is your dog standing and sitting symmetrically, or do you notice a consistent transfer of weight to one side or the other?
    2. Do paws look symmetrically weight loaded when the dog is standing or sitting? Does one appear to cover a larger surface area when placed on the ground? Does your dog “point” one foot in a different direction than the other?
    3. In a standing position, with head facing forward and center, is your dog’s back rounded or does it have a sway? Curved to one side or the other?
  2. Limping. If you see it, your dog is likely already compensating by at least 20%.
  3. Getting up from a sit or down. Taking longer than 1 second is an abnormal time for a physically healthy dog to move into a standing position.
  4. Hopping while running or while moving up or down stairs.
  5. Stiffness when getting up but “normal” after moving around for a few minutes.

“But my dog still likes to go to the dog park, play frisbee, fetch his ball, he isn’t acting painful…”

Of importance, you will note that the lack of desire to play or go for walks/hikes is not listed as an assessment tool for mild to moderate orthopedic pain. This is because dogs will very often, gladly participate in these activities – even through what I would consider moderate to severe pain. Many people are surprised to find out that whimpering and vocalization in response to pain is typically in response to severe, acute pain, but not often associated with mild, moderate or even severe chronic pain.

Steps to take if you think you see signs of mild to moderate pain in your dog.

  • Keep track. Make mental notations of activity level and type and the time of day you see subtle signs of pain listed above.
  • Get a diagnosis. See a veterinarian who has a lot of experience in orthopedic medicine, gait evaluation, pain management or physical rehabilitation.
  • Make a plan. This may include a change in activity type, weight management, medications, alternative care such as acupuncture, massage and specific strengthening exercises.
  • Monitor. Have the changes helped?

Hope this helps you and your dog for many years to come…

Kristin Wolter, CVT, CCRA, CCFT