I have a six month old Kelpie cross puppy, Zac, who I’ve just found out needs major hip surgery, it will mean that for the next few months he will have to be confined and will not be able to be walked. I was wondering if you could please help me with some suggestions of ways to keep him occupied during this time. Thank you.
Hi Mal, over the years I have had a number of people ask me this question. I’m glad you realise that given the restrictions placed on Zac that he will be bored. Dogs cannot read or watch television to occupy themselves during their recovery so it will be up to you to enrich his environment for his sanity (and yours).
During Zac’s recovery feed him every bit of food from your hand and hollow dog toys. This way Zac will have to work for his food and while he is doing this he will be getting reinforced for calm, quiet behaviour. You can either use wet food, dry food and raw bones to stuff in to his dog toys, it will keep him occupied and he will feel good using his brain to work for his food.
Feeding him food from your hand will ensure that he is receiving positive feedback from you when he is calm and quiet. You could also include some basic obedience skills in your hand feeding to keep your training on track. Skills like ‘stay’ and ‘watch me’ will be great for stimulating Zac but not pushing him physically. By the end of his recovery he should have these skills down-pat. It is vital to keep your training up during this time so you have skills to fall back on when it is time to bring him out again.
Nose work is another way to stimulate Zac’s brain. Lay out some treats so he can see them, then tell him to ‘find it’. He should go straight to the treat and eat it, after a while you can start making things harder by hiding the treat or making Zac wait in another room while you lay the food down. Dogs use an enormous amount of energy when they have to sniff things out and this can be done all at a walking pace once he becomes more mobile. Using plastic cups and hiding the food under one cup will also be good stimulation, teach Zac to sit next to the cup before you allow him to eat the food and he will soon signal to you (by sitting) which cup the food is hidden under.
During Zac’s recovery have as many people (of all ages) come to visit as possible so that Zac keeps his confidence up around people. You might also like to give these people props such as umbrella’s, hats, sunglasses, beards, walking sticks etc to bring with them as sometimes these can be quite scary to dogs that have not had ongoing exposure to such items.
Once Zac starts his rehabilitation you should include swimming as his main exercise, there are professionals who specialise in treating dogs recovering from surgery and they will also use swimming to aid this. Massage will also help Zac calm down and recover, it will increase blood flow throughout his body and promote relaxation. Ask your rehabilitation professional to show you the best way to massage Zac.
All of the above ideas will help Zac get the most out of a difficult situation during his recovery, but they are also things people should be doing for dogs that are in good health. Keeping your dog healthy is not just about doing the physical things, but also providing your dog with opportunities to exercise their mind. There are lots, and lots of great enrichment products on the market and some people might also like to post their ideas below. If your dog is tired, he is much less likely to engage in disruptive behaviour and you will both be happier. All the best Mal, and hugs for Zac.