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.