Our recovering pets cannot be expected to understand why they are not allowed to go for their usual walks, jump on the sofa or play with balls. It’s no wonder that some dogs find the recovery period a bit of a challenge. Luckily, there is plenty that you the owner can do to make life more pleasant for your furry friend during recovery.
Provide a comfortable recovery space
Your vet may have advised you to buy either a recovery crate or pen for your dog, or to set up a recovery room. During recovery, the crate, pen or room is your dog’s own little world for much of the day and night, so it’s important to make it really comfortable. Offer plenty of bedding as this will encourage rest. Dogs cannot be expected to settle down if they are cold, so put your hands down at dog level, check for draughts, and block these with extra blankets or a cot bumper if needed.
Above: Check that your dog has enough space and plenty of bedding.
Your dog needs enough space to stretch out fully for comfort. If using a recovery crate or pen, check that it is big enough. There’s a guide to minimum recommended floor space allowances for crates and pens here.
Establish a regular routine
Make a regular daily routine for your recovering dog. Your dog will be less likely to get stressed if he or she knows what to expect. The routine should include toilet breaks, exercise as prescribed by the vet, meal times, time spent relaxing with you, and times of the day when your dog should learn not to expect any attention. For more on the daily routine, click here if your dog is on room rest, or here if your dog is recovering in a crate or pen.
Offer good toys
Offer suitable toys to your dog. Food-dispensing toys are great for cheering up bored dogs: Most dogs love objects that they can lick and chew, especially if the toy releases some food. If your dog needs plenty to do, then you can even offer their entire daily food ration in food-dispensing toys instead of feeding meals from a bowl.
Above: A Kong filled with food can keep a dog occupied for some time
Do your best to stay positive whenever talking to or handling your recovering dog, even if you are having a bad day. This will make a big difference to your dog’s well-being, as our canine friends are quick to pick up on our emotions.
Speak kindly to your dog rather than snapping or shouting at them. The tone of your voice is more important than what you say. To encourage your dog to wake up and come with you, try an upbeat, higher-pitched voice. Speak in a slower, more soothing tone to encourage your dog to calm down.
Whatever you do with your dog, remember to have “kind hands”
Always handle your recovering dog gently (have “kind hands”). Do your best to avoid gripping your dog rigidly, or digging your finger-tips into them, both of which can hurt and put your dog on edge. This goes for whenever you are helping your dog in or out of the crate, lifting them, doing prescribed massage or anything else. This can be easier said than done, especially if your dog is excitable or wriggly.
A couple of tips to make handling your dog less stressful:
- Have your dog wear a harness at all times. You can then restrain your dog, if needed, by grabbing the top or sides of the harness rather than by grabbing the dog itself. It’s much safer for your recovering dog if you grab hold of a harness rather than applying force to a standard neck collar, choke chain, slip lead, or rope lead.
- A gentle stroke over your dog’s shoulders is usually a good start to whatever else you need to do.
Use rewards; don’t use punishments
The recovery period may be a learning process for your dog. Perhaps he or she needs to learn not to rush past you out of their crate, for example. It’s important to use rewards and not punishments while teaching your recovering dog. Punishing your dog is likely to make your dog confused and can lead to all sorts of future behaviour problems.
Whenever your dog does something good, reward them immediately by saying “good boy/girl” in a kind voice. If needed, offer a small food reward at the same time (just a little morsel will be enough). This helps your dog learn to cooperate with you.
A simple firm “no” may occasionally be needed to make it clear that your dog has just done something unacceptable. Be sure to reward them as soon as they do the right thing.
Avoid hitting, tapping or shaking your dog, rattling their crate bars, slamming their crate door, shouting or ranting at them. Remember that your confined dog cannot go off and hide from an angry owner. If you feel full of bottled-up frustration, it may be best to put your dog safely into his or her crate and then leave the room until you have calmed down.
Try using Adaptil® products
Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) is produced by mother dogs to make their pups feel more content and calm. The same chemical is available in synthetic form (currently sold as Adaptil® in the UK) as a diffuser, spray or collar. Try getting a DAP diffuser and plugging this in very close to your dog’s crate for its calming effects. In addition, DAP spray can be used on bedding within the crate to help your dog feel at home. The diffuser and spray appear to be more useful than the DAP collar during crate restriction.
Above: Ask your vet about the Adaptil spray and diffuser. These are worth trying for their calming effects.
A change of scene
Some dogs appreciate a change of scene now and again. Even if your dog is only allowed to walk for five minutes at a time, this does not necessarily have to be within your own garden.
Consider getting a dog pushchair so that you can take your dog to the park or woods. Lift your dog out for their prescribed amount of timed lead exercise, then put them back in the chair to rest. They’ll enjoy being allowed to sniff somewhere new. For safety, be sure to clip your dog’s harness to the pushchair during use, and always keep a close eye on your dog as you definitely don’t want them attempting to jump out of the chair.
If your dog is comfortable in the car, then consider driving them somewhere more interesting for one of their daily short lead walks. It’s important that your dog stays safe on the journey. Lift them in and out of the car and be sure that they will not jump off, or fall from, a car seat. For travel, the best option is usually to put your dog into a travel crate containing plenty of bedding. Once your dog is safe to sit for extended periods, then they can travel safely on a seat while restrained with a travel harness.
Above: A short trip to the woods can be a pleasure. Remember to keep your dog on the lead, to time the walk if your dog is not allowed free exercise, and be sure not to get carried away and walk for too long.
Check the position of your dog’s recovery area
Keep an eye on your dog to check how well they cope with people around their crate or in their recovery room. Some dogs love to be in the busiest area of the house so that they can see, hear and smell what is going on at all times. Others get upset by the comings and goings of people and other dogs nearby. With your dog is on crate rest or room rest, bear in mind that he or she cannot escape from the sound of family games or arguments. If household bustle and noise seems to be making your dog anxious, then consider having them recover in a quieter part of the home. For dogs on crate rest, another option is try covering part of the crate with a sheet or blanket.
Try playing the radio, an audiobook or music
Consider leaving the radio or recorded music playing at certain times of the day to help your dog settle down. Studies suggest that using an audiobook (try one aimed at school age children), gentle classical music or soft reggae may have some calming effect on dogs. Remember that your confined dog cannot escape from noise, so set the music no louder than a gentle speaking volume.
Above: Try leaving your usual favourite radio station playing when you go out. If your dog is already familiar with this then it may help them to settle down.
For more information…
Try the following links for more advice on caring for your recovering dog: