“Keep your puppy calm” and “have your puppy refrain from running and jumping” is what you’ll be told after your puppy has been spayed or neutered. Now, if you are anything like any other puppy parents, the first thing you think to yourself is, “how the heck am I supposed to do that”? Puppies are full of energy and expecting them to stay calm and not run around is like expecting young kids to be quiet and go to bed early at a sleepover. It ain’t gonna happen! It is important for them to have limited activity so they can heal properly. Never fear, I have 12 ways to exercise your puppy after surgery.
Here’s the good news- providing brain games is a great way to provide exercise. I’m always implementing fun, mental games as a way to exercise my puppies even if they don’t need to be on “crate rest” or restricted exercise.
And, did you know that 20-30 minutes of brain games is just as effective as going for a walk?
12 ways to exercise your puppy after surgery
Food Dispensing Toys
Food dispensing toys are an excellent way to keep puppies mentally stimulated during their recovery period after being spayed or neutered. The toys provide a challenge and promote problem-solving skills. Using mealtimes for these activities allows you to provide your puppy mental exercise and help boredom during recovery.
A day doesn’t go by where my dogs don’t use food dispensing toys.
Protocol for Relaxation
Dr. Karen Overall’s Protocol for Relaxation is the secret sauce to puppy raising. These exercises involve a series of tasks for your puppy to do all the while helping to promote calm and relaxation. Not only will these exercises give your puppy a mental workout and help promote calm behavior, but they will also teach your puppy to chill out. Imagine being able to walk around your house without your puppy constantly trying to bite your feet and butt! You and your puppy will get so much out of this protocol.
Here is a full copy of the protocol from Dr. Karen Overall’s Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Cats and Dogs.
Sniffing games can be an excellent way to keep your puppy mentally stimulated and occupied. Sniffing games tap into your puppy’s natural desire to use their nose, providing a fun and engaging activity. Indoors, you can hide treats around the house and encourage your puppy to find them. Outdoors, in your yard you can create the same fun game. Get creative and make it even more fun and challenging by hiding treats in small boxes, under Solo cups, stuffed inside toilet paper tubes, in shallow containers, or wrapped in packing paper. Use your imagination!
Who doesn’t love a massage? If you’ve ever had one, you know how relaxing they can be. Have you ever fallen asleep or come close to falling asleep during a massage? I know I have. Canine massage is great for your puppy who is recovering from surgery because it’s a calming activity and it helps reduce stress. Did you know when we reduce stress and anxiety in our puppies, they can heal more quickly? Canine massage can help promote physical well-being! Not only that, but it’s a great way to bond with your puppy. Who doesn’t want some pampering when they aren’t feeling well?
Long-Lasting Edible Chews
Providing long-lasting edible chews is a must even if your puppy hasn’t had surgery. Chewing is a natural behavior for puppies (and for your dog’s whole life). Chewing promotes relaxation, relieves stress, and reduces boredom. Bully sticks, stuffed & frozen KONGs, Himalayan Yak Chews, and ROAM Ostrich or Kangaroo are favorites in our house. Not only are these chews tasty, they also help promote good chewing habits. Good chewing habits are something that every puppy needs even if they aren’t recovering from surgery. And yes, your puppy can eat the Ostrich or Kangaroo bone. Like any bones or edible treats, watch for small pieces that could be a choking hazard.
Long-Lasting Non-Edible Chews
Non-Edible chews are another great option. Benebones and Nylabones are popular options. They are durable and come in a variety of shapes, styles, and flavors. Olive wood, coffee wood, ruff roots, and gorilla chews are also another option in this category. You may have to do a little trial and error to find which types of non-edible chews your puppy likes the best. Keep in mind that having options is key. Your puppy may be able to satisfy their chewing needs with one of these one day but need a different one on a different day. Bison horns are another fabulous option and are a big hit in our house.
Teaching “Go to Bed” or “Go to Place”
Teaching your puppy to “go to bed” or to go to their “place” can be a fantastic mental exercise post surgery. This game is low impact, but packs as much punch as physical exercise. While providing a fun game, you’re helping reduce overexertion after surgery and you will create a safe and comfortable spot that you can send your puppy to relax while you are eating dinner, have guests over, or for other times you need your puppy to settle. By teaching this game you are not only providing mental exercise, you are teaching a valuable skill that your puppy will have for life.
Licking activities are a simple way for you to provide an easy activity. Licking provides a soothing and calming experience for puppies which help to reduce stress. KONGs will also fall into this category along with Lickimats. These frozen treats provide low energy engagement as puppies mentally work hard to get the food out. Your puppy will be occupied for extended periods of times with these activities and will also give your puppy quite the mental workout.
A treat scatter is one of the easiest things you can set up. This simple activity involves scattering your puppies kibble or treats around the yard. A Treat Scatter encourages puppies to use their nose and helps satisfy their natural foraging and scavenging desires. Your puppy will spend time sniffing through all the blades of grass to find their hidden goodies. This low impact exercise won’t hinder your puppy’s healing and will keep them from running around outside. Your puppy will meander around the yard looking for each tidbit which will prevent boredom, destructive chewing, and help reduce undesired behaviors.
The muffin tin game and blanket burrito are fun ways to entertain your puppy indoors (and it’s fun to watch them play). The muffin tin game involves hiding kibble or treats in each “compartment” and then covering them with tennis balls or other toys. This challenges your puppy to use their nose and problem solve.
Blanket burrito involves scattering kibble or treats in the blanket and then rolling it up. Your puppy gets to engage in their natural scavenging and foraging behavior as they use their nose to unroll the blanket and pick out the tasty treats.
Tip: I like to add some high value treats to the kibble or prepackaged treats. This gives it an extra boost of fun for your puppy as they pluck out tiny bits of hot dogs, meatballs, or cheese. Remember how you liked to pick the marshmallows out of the Lucky Charms or the “berries” out of the Cap’n Crucnh Crunch Berries when you were a kid?
Post spay or neuter recovery can still be fun for you and your puppy. Who doesn’t love showing off fun tricks? Now is a good time to do some trick training. High five, shake paw, or turn in a circle can be good games to teach your puppy while they are healing. Your puppy gets to move and groove, but at a low level. Furthermore, trick training is fun, stimulating, can build confidence, and build a deeper bond with you and your puppy.
These toys provide a fun and engaging for your puppy to stimulate their mind, reduce boredom, and stay mentally active. One type of interactive toy is from Nina Ottosson’s Outward Hound puzzles. There are so many to choose from and they range in different levels of difficulty. For example, the “Dog Twister” puzzle requires puppies to rotate the disks to reveal hidden treats. The “Dog Tornado” puzzle has your puppy move different layers to find the hidden treats. Other puzzles have your puppy slide pieces back and forth or around.
These puzzles not only improve your puppy’s cognition but are great boredom busters when you are trying to keep your puppy happy while they are on exercise restrictions.
The Short of It
To sum up, having your puppy on restricted exercise doesn’t have to create puppy predicaments for you. Simply providing ways to keep your puppy’s brain busy can help promote calm and relaxation. Low impact games provide big benefits with mental exercise and prevent boredom. By implementing these strategies your puppy’s post recovery time can be comfortable and stress-free for the both of you.
Do you love your puppy, but find there are days you are frustrated which makes it hard to like your puppy? You’re not alone! Yes, I could use help with this whole puppy raising thing.