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  • Writer's pictureDr Sandra Hassett

10 Top Tips to Keep Your Dog Sane During Rehab©

Your active agility dog/puppy/ball-mad fur-friend has just been to see the rehabilitation therapist or the surgeon. They have said 6 weeks rest. No running, jumping, chasing balls, playing with other dogs, walking off lead, spending time unsupervised in the back garden.

Are they insane?! How can you manage this and not have your dog climbing the walls and destroying everything they can lay their teeth on?!

Fear not! Many other clever dog owners have faced your dilemma and come up with excellent ways to keep their dogs entertained. Here are 10 top tips to keep your dog sane during rehab:

1. Exercise their brains

It is much easier to tire a dog’s brain than their body and a tired brain will let the body rest. Experiencing new sensations and locations, learning new tricks and games, using their ability to scent, asking them to problem solve – these are all great ways to tire a dog’s brain


Mental stimulation is a great way to engage and exhaust our dogs.

2. Focus on the new

Being presented with a new situation is much more challenging, and therefore tiring, than doing same old, same old. If your dog can only walk on lead for 15 minutes then don’t do 15 minutes of their usual walk – how boring! Load them into the car and go somewhere new.

Write a list of 100 things to do that you haven’t done with your dog, including places to go, and work your way through it. New places to walk (even if it is only 15 minutes, on lead), new people to see (is your dog comfortable near older people, people with walking sticks, people with back packs, toddler, kids playing sport …), new animal species (cows, sheep, horses, ducks ….), new machines (motor bikes, skate boards, boats, paddle boards, bulldozers …), at night, during the day, on water, on land … the list can be endless.

If your dog is not comfortable with something new then take the time to repeat the experience and progressively socialise them. Not only will you tire them out, you will end up with a much calmer and more balanced dog. If you make it through the first 100 things - then make a new list!

3. Canberra Dog Walks

This website has some great walks including detailed descriptions of what you will experience on the walk, dog friendly coffee shops etc. You don’t need to do the whole walk just cherry pick the bits that are suitable for your dog. This may mean pretty parks to take them to for a sniff and a potter or cafes where they can sit and watch the passing parade or swimming areas where they can wade in the water (if this is allowed). Take advantage of this great resource at:

4. Ask what they can do – then train it

We seldom ban all activities! Come back to us with specific questions. I can’t do agility but can I teach contacts or ‘turn left’ and ‘turn right’? I can’t do heeling but can I teach scent discrimination? I can’t do recalls but can I proof stays? I can’t go tracking but can I teach article indication? I can’t play chase the ball but can I play find the ball? Many exercises need to be broken into parts and shaped before the parts are brought together and you may be able to teach some of those parts even if the whole exercise is not appropriate.

Ask what they can do - then train it!

Teach them the basics of lots of new ‘tricks’ – sit, down, stand, play bow, roll over, lie on their back for tummy rubs, high 5 left paw, high 5 right paw, spin left, spin right, walk sideways, perch work front legs, perch work back legs, touch a marker with their nose/front or back paw, pick up toys, carry toys, retrieve toys, follow scent trails, find hidden toys, find hidden people – again the list is only limited by your imagination.

5. Start teaching the next rehab exercise

Any good surgeon or rehabilitation therapist will have a rehabilitation plan for your fur friend! Ask them what is in the future for your dog. Will they be doing ball work? Will they be using a fit disc or wobble board? Do they need to learn some stretches?

Will they be doing high 5s?

You may be able to start some preliminary work even if they are not yet ready for the next exercise. For example, teaching your dog to target with their front and back paws is the first step in using wobble boards and fit discs and can be taught long before they are challenged with the unstable surface.

6. Use enrichment toys

There are various puzzle toys that can dispense treats. Some of these allow you to increase the difficulty as your dog improves. There are simple DIY replacements for some of the treat dispensing toys. For example a plastic bottle with small slits cut along the side that allows treats to come out when it is moved. You can unscrew the lid to refill it. A muffin tin with a couple of treats in some cups and then cover each cup, so the dog has to remove the cover to get the treat.

7. Play scent games

The scent world is the dog’s natural environment and using this sense is immensely satisfying for a dog. Play hide and seek using food, a person or a toy (you can do this on lead so they don’t rush). Let the dog see where the reward is hidden initially then make the game progressively more challenging until your dog is in another room when you place the reward. Hide a toy or treat under one of 3 boxes and teach them to find it (let them see initially then progress to hiding the treat and moving the boxes around). Teach them scent discrimination (which article has my scent on it?) or nose work (where is the article that smells like …?). The possibilities are endless!

8. Canine enrichment

There are a number of resources on the internet for ideas for keeping your dog mentally active, including groups of Facebook. One active and well monitored group is called Canine Enrichment. It has over 100K members who are based all over the world so lots if great ideas.

9. Change the way you feed

Finding food is one of the most satisfying things a dog can do! Don’t make it easy for them by putting it a bowl - that spoils the challenge! Scatter food around the room or the house, the area depending on their mobility. Even once they have found it all they will keep searching, just to be sure.

Fill a Kong with food and freeze it.

There are great recipes for stuffing Kongs on the web at . Put food in food dispensers (bought or home made). Put their dry food in a bucket full of other objects so they have to sort through to get it.

10. Check out Cheryl May’s activities for dogs that can’t be too active

So try to see your dog’s rehabilitation as a time for growth and challenge. By focussing on the positive your dog will not only recover faster and with fewer set-backs but also come out of rehab with new skills and a more balanced approach to life.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is general in nature and not intended to provide specific veterinary advice. If your dog has specific health issues a thorough physical examination by a trained veterinary professional is recommended. Veterinary clearance before instituting any new activity program is also recommended.



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