The games dogs play never become more important as when they are recovering from surgery or an injury where movement needs to be limited. This time will mean the dog owner will need to provide creative ways of play, mentally stimulating activities and have access to tools to help ease the demands of a convalescing canine. Below are ideas for mentally stimulating activities and play, as well as tools to speed recovery.
Play will need to evolve around rest and be structured according to the dog’s limitations. The ideas below will assure your dog keeps busy while healing. Implementing play several times for short periods throughout the day is advisable.
Spend this time teaching quiet tricks, such as give a paw, wave or touch a target stick with their nose. This activity also comes in handy when giving medication. The dog can earn the medication in a food treat for completing a paw to your hand or a simple nose touch. The number of quiet tricks available are as close as one’s imagination. Do this five minutes, several times a day.
Search games are great for the convalescing dog and curb boredom. In the beginning just hide treats under an easy to overturn plastic or Styrofoam cup and use a cue like ‘find it’ or ‘search’. This could easily be masterminded ten times in a row or as long as the dog stays interested or alert. As healing starts to make the dog more energetic, make the game more challenging with two, three, four and five cups. Searching for treats in the convalescing dog’s immediate area can be tiring and mentally stimulating. Wrapping the food treats in edible rice paper also relieves boredom through chewing once the prize is found. Hide several rice paper filled treats under bedding, chairs, towels or cloths, items of clothing and cups and let the fun begin. This is a game dogs can play with or without owners, but be nearby for supervision.
Interactive games can use skills already learned and keep the human/dog bond in place. The Halloween game of trick or treat is not just fun for children. This game makes the dog think. You can play this by using two bags, two cups of varying size, or your hands. Show the dog the healthy treat. Then place it in a trick or treat bag and rotate the bags. Ask dog to ‘find’ or ‘search’. To make it more challenging teach dog to simply touch or paw the bag or lie down in front of the bag with the treat as a show me game. Ask, is it HERE? or THIS? or SHOW ME! If it was right, say an enthusiastic YES! and repeat. You can also play this game by putting the treat in one hand and placing hands near the dog. By touching, looking and/or pawing they learn to think out where the treat is hidden and are rewarded for doing it. This is a great communication game.
Mentally stimulating activity
Mentally stimulating activities use all of the dog’s senses. Boredom will be released through chewing, working food out of Kongs or other treat toys and balls and using smell, hearing and eyes. Interactive toys and boredom busting games can be purchased through Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training website.
Frozen foods allow a dog to lick and chew until the prize is reached. It provides soothing relief in a lot of cases depending on the injury being endured. Fill a foraging toy with raw, cooked, semi-moist, canned or dry food and freeze until solid. The dog will need to work to get at the hidden treasures. Prepare the area by putting down a plastic table cloth to keep the floors clean and put towels or blankets over this. Prepare for a mess, but it will be well worth the entertainment value. This activity can, of course, also be done outdoors on a nice day. The convalescing dog will appreciate the time outside.
Working for their dinner. This will greatly depend on what the convalescing dog can have for dinner, so make it easy in the beginning and save the challenges for increased awareness and the ability to move around. Using their natural instinct to hunt and forage for food will keep the dog mentally fit and eager for their meals Eating meals and enjoying them are a key to healing and revival. First, split the dog’s meal into three portions and put each portion into three small bowls. Cover the bowls with towels, a paper bag or box or an easily tipped over plastic container. These bowls can easily be in reach or in a confined area stimulating the dog to find, and eat. One should be really easy to find in the beginning, say food scattered on an uncovered paper plate. As the dog gets better and more able to move around, increase the difficulty in foraging for meals and even take the activity outside to soft ground where injury is less likely to recur.
Treat obstacle course. Does the canine convalescent need more mentally stimulating activity? Go for creating a treat obstacle course, as simple or complex as the imagination can envision and the dog can tolerate. This can be played indoors or outdoors. Start with 10 treats of high value. Hide treats on top of molding, behind flower pots, on a low stool or anything at nose height. Hide treats on low shelves, on books or the tops of cups or under cups and plates. See how long it takes the dog to find all the treats hidden.
Tools to make life easier
A convalescing dog may need a special crate, x-pen, carrying case for stress-free outings or even a wheelchair to allow them to walk not putting strain on a foot injury. Small dogs are lucky because they can be carried in a pouch or carrying case or even walked in a stroller while they are recovering. Larger dogs can benefit from a specially made wheelchair, ramps, hand held straps for transport and crates put on a roller or crates with built in rollers. All of these things can make life with convalescing Fido less of a chore and more of a pleasurable way to help them heal faster.
Other tools to include would be relaxing music for deep, uninterrupted sleep, such as Through a Dog’s Ear series. Keep distractions zero to low while Rover is healing and think comfort and safety.
Engaging, interacting and keeping Fido comfortable throughout the convalescent period will go a long way to encourage healing. You can sing with your dog, engage them in hide and seek under the covers or put on body wraps the Tellington Touch way. This is a great time to do daily massage and bodywork. There are the Thundershirts and Anxiety Wraps to decrease the stress of surgery and also Rescue Remedy for Dogs. A combination of deep sleep and engaging activity is a great recipe for accelerated healing and a better quality of life.