"... she is not overly happy about being in a crate when we are not home, at night and being on a leash even in the house with the strict directions of no playing, no running, no jumping and no stairs."
This is an excerpt from a recent email from a client, and a scenario is not all that uncommon in my line of work. Through the years, I've been able to help many of my canine (and feline) charges navigate through those first few days and weeks after a surgical procedure or injury, as resting the affected area is crucial in healing. Having two large breed dogs myself, I've been through this a few times too.
Sure, when a pet has had an injury that requires some time off its feet and it is under doctor's orders to be on restricted activity, it can put a damper on things for a while. That said, I always remember that I'm not only there to take care of the pet's needs — but for fun as well.
I've found that shifting the focus from what activities a companion animal normally does to what they can do physically to those that are allowed, and of course compensating by adding more mental stimulation is of great help.
After all, a pet who has not had adequate exercise can develop unacceptable behaviors, like whining, barking, chewing or excessive licking (the latter can lead to bigger problems), to pass the time. This only exacerbates the original injury.
The first thing that I always begin the dialogue with when getting up to speed on where a canine client is at post-surgical or injury, is by asking what the doctor's orders are, and what the timeline looks like for gradually reducing any restrictions — essentially what can they do week by week.
Some of the things that I like to know are:
How long can the animal walk while on leash? (Unleashed walks are almost always not allowed.)
Are they able to swim at some point instead of running?
Under what conditions do they need to be crated?
Are stairs off limits, or can they be managed with assistance?
After I get that information, it's all about working with a client to work together to put a plan of action in place. Depending on the animal, you would be surprised at the kinds of things that can temporarily take the place of the activities that are off-limits.
A refresher course
Simple obedience is great for your dog's brain — and you get to the benefit of having a dog that is well-trained.
Dong a little refresher training on the commands sit, stay, down or others that he already knows can earn treats, a new toy or even an opportunity to play a favorite game, so long as it's one that is not off-limits during his recuperation.
You might enroll him in a regular class to learn new skills and can provide both physical and mental stimulation during this interim time.
Tricks for treats
The process of learning tricks is one that is mentally stimulating, and much like training sessions and playtime, has a secondary benefit: it strengthens the human/animal bond.
Because learning tricks challenges the mind, it offers your pets (canine or feline) the opportunity to burn off some mental energy, too, which can wear them out without forbidden physical activity.
Easy tricks (again, as long as the movement is allowed) include wave, shake, crawl, spin, roll over and high-five.
Most dogs are quite fond of Kong toys, and providing one for your ailing pooch can offset the boredom that sets in, especially while you're away and they are left alone within the safety of their crate. Click here for ideas on healthy alternatives for stuffed, frozen Kong toys, or consider some other toys that I've recommended for dogs that are not only good for the brain, but are great for those that need to adhere to a restricted activity care plan. A few ideas can be found by clicking here.
Don't forget the good old standby of catnip for cats!
Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.