“Exercise restriction” may be recommended by a veterinarian for a number of reasons. A dog may be resting a torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), receiving heart worm treatment, or recovering from an injury or surgery. I have encountered each of these scenarios in the last year, and the dogs ranged from normally active adolescents to slowing down seniors. What do we do with their pent-up energy and ensuing boredom? Fortunately, there are several activities that provide mental stimulation during this forced downtime.
Environmental enrichment: Increase their indoor level of low-impact activities. The right level of mental stimulation, and plenty of opportunities to be more dog will result in a dog that can cope better.
Ditch the bowl: Instead, feed your dog using food puzzles, snuffle mats, treat-filled Kongs, lickimats. You can scatter food and treats in different locations around the house or hide treats in a towel, a muffin tin, or a tube. Watch your dog explore the different options.
Mental stimulation: hunting, chewing, licking, mind and scent work, tricks and games are great low-impact activities for your dog.
Play can often meet our dog’s needs: Hidden Treasure – dogs have a remarkable sense of smell. Place a few small boxes or containers out on the floor and add a treat underneath one of them. Encourage your dog to sniff and find the treat. Praise them and reward them with the discovered treat. A snuffle mat, food puzzles, and lickimats all satisfy a dog’s need to hunt. Try puzzles with different skill levels to challenge your dog more. But don’t make it so hard that your dog gets frustrated.
Hide-and-seek is fun for children to play too. When your dog isn’t watching, pick the perfect spot to hide, call your dog, and celebrate their accomplishment with a yummy treat when they find you. This is a good way to practice recall.
Which hand game – this is the beginning of learning nose work. Place a treat in one hand, hold both hands out towards your dog in a fist and encourage them to pick the hand with the treat. Be sure your dog takes the treat nicely from your hand. If he is mouthy, it’s an opportunity to teach them manners.
Put your toys away is one of my favorites. Dogs like this one too. Start by having your dog pick up a toy near where they’re normally stored. Have your dog “drop it” while standing over the toy box. Once they get the hang of this, they can clean up after themselves. Patience and praise are a good recipe to support their progress.
Car rides/stroller walks may help soothe a dog’s confinement while they are on a limited exercise regime. Take them out for a spin. You can stop by a quiet spot for a picnic. Bring something novel along in a box and open it slowly with excitement (a feather, something with a lavender smell, a new treat) to add to the ambience. Sit for a spell and enjoy some quality time together.
Slow petting, similar to a gentle massage or a light scratching, is a sensory way to calm a dog down. Avoid areas where your dog doesn’t like to be touched. Some dogs don’t like the top of their head, muzzle, or ears touched.
Set your dog up for success. Enrichment activities must be safe and fun. Adjust the level of difficulty of puzzles and games gradually so your dog doesn’t get frustrated. Supervise the aggressive chewers so they don’t ingest any object pieces. Games and play are wonderful ways for your dog to pass the time when his normal activity routine is paused. Engaging with your dog is good for both of you. Enjoy the experience. When your dog is ready to resume normal activities, you will have a list of experiences to return to when it is wet, cold, hot or windy. Have fun.
Happy Pet! Happy Home!
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