The vet has told you to collect your dog from the surgery, the anaesthetic is wearing off, so now what? Trainer Tony Cruse advises...
Many owners are surprised when told that after their dog's surgery they should not allow any off-lead running for at least 10 days. There should be no excessive activity and gentle lead walking only.
The family is then faced with a dog who wants to do all the things he is used to doing, but now has to be denied. This is a dog with excess energy who could get up to all kinds of mischief.
Don't despair - despite the prescribed lack of exercise, you can provide your dog with some fun brain work instead. These games work your dog's primary senses and can often tire a dog out more than physical exercise alone.
The scent-related games should be calm and controlled, and shouldn't hinder his recovery in any way.
Rest and recuperation after surgery
When your dog first comes home from the surgery, he will require rest and recuperation. Be aware that any animal recovering from surgery requires time and space. Allow him to rest quietly and keep a discreet eye on him. Tell the family not to approach him, fuss him, or prod him to see if he is feeling better! When he is feeling better, he will probably come and find you.
Your vet may give you some information about caring for your dog after an operation and it is a good idea to get the whole family to read and understand it.
When your dog has recovered, he may start demanding the usual exercise, but go easy. Until you get the OK from your vet, work only on providing stimulation and not excessive physical activity.
Post-op stimulation for your dog: Nosework part 1
Strenuous activity is not recommended for any dog who has had recent surgery; stitches can split, wounds can open, and recovery is compromised.
Getting your dog to use his eyes and, particularly, his nose, will provide him with stimulation to make up for that lack of exercise. It also provides an alternative to the kind of physical activity that would be detrimental to his recuperation.
When your dog is well enough to eat his usual food, you can make each mealtime a chance for him to use his brain. Dogs are natural scavengers and are already purpose-built to find food. What's more, when they are hunting for food, recovery can be aided because endorphins (happy hormones) are produced. Searching is fun!
You can use your dog's dry food for this exercise or pieces of chicken, carrot, or low-fat cheese.
- Take a piece of your dog's meal or a small treat; show it to your dog.
- Throw it a short distance so he can see it. Allow him to find it and eat it. Use an underarm action to say 'Find' as you toss it.
- Repeat, each time increasing the distance and throwing it in longer grass so he cant' see it.
- Keep quiet when your dog is searching; this is when his nose is near the ground and he is frequently sniffing. If he looks at you, look away and he should go back to searching. Don't show him where the treat is but make it easier next time.
- With your dog out of sight in the house, hide some food around the garden (from one piece to the whole meal).
- Collect your dog. Say his name and bluff the food throw (underarm action) while saying 'Find'. Keep quiet and allow him to search.
- You can play a similar search game using his toys but keep it calm. Initially throw the toy out a very short distance using an underarm throw. Say 'Find' and allow him to move towards it.
- Now hide the toy in the garden and bluff the throw while saying ‘Find'. Then enjoy watching your dog work! He is scenting for the smell of the toy and your scent, which is on the toy. You can make the searches harder by hiding the food or toy in longer grass or up at nose level. Your dog will then be really using his nose to search.
Post-op stimulation for your dog: Nosework part 2
For mealtimes, you can perform a similar exercise indoors.
- With your dog out of sight, hide the small pieces of kibble around your house.
- Allow him into the room and with a straight arm, say ‘Find' and pretend to throw something. Keep quiet and enable your dog to exercise his senses.
- There are other ways to feed your dog, so he exercises his brain. Take the cardboard tube from a kitchen or toilet roll, together with your dog's usual dry food. Put your dog's kibble in the cardboard and twist the ends tightly so it does not spill out.
- Shake it to get your dog's attention, then place it on the floor. Your dog now has to figure out how to extract his meal from inside the tube.
Vet-prep training exercise: muzzle conditioning
Owners can get bitten taking their dogs to the vet's for immediate surgery. Any animal in pain or shock may lash out and bite; it is not personal, merely instinctive.
You can help by getting your dog relatively content to wear a muzzle. You may never need to fi t it, but at least you will know your dog will be comfortable should the need arise.
You can also help the vet if your dog is ‘hand shy' or anxious, by fitting the muzzle before you arrive at the surgery. If you don't fit a muzzle, your vet may have to, and that will be further trauma for your dog to experience.
This exercise will help your dog to feel more comfortable wearing a muzzle. Repeat it frequently and he may genuinely look forward to wearing a muzzle because it predicts good things.
- Grab a handful of your dog's dinner; perhaps add some tasty treats. Show your dog the muzzle and the second he investigates it, pop a piece of food into his mouth.
- Having ensured you have figured out the correct way for the muzzle to fi t on your dog's nose, hold some food at the front of the muzzle and allow your dog to place his mouth in to eat the food. Keep the muzzle still - your dog does the work!
- Once he has swallowed the food, hide the muzzle behind your back for 20 seconds and do nothing. You want your dog to crave another go. What a great game! Repeat until your dog has eaten the handful (a piece or two at a time). Keep the session short (less than three minutes) or repeat the above over a period of two days with perhaps three sessions a day.
- Now a small progression. For the next two days, while your dog is eating the food, hold the straps as if the muzzle was done up. Count two seconds and remove the muzzle completely. Build up from two seconds (two seconds at a time) until you can get to 10 seconds.
- After performing number 4 for two days, you are ready to fasten the muzzle. Again use the technique from number 1 and while your dog is munching, secure the muzzle. As he is wearing it, pop a treat or two into his mouth. Again start at two seconds and remove. Build to 20 seconds (in two-second increments) feeding only as he wears it. Immediately remove the muzzle and put it behind your back after the time has elapsed.
- Once you've got to 30 seconds, a good way to help your dog adjust is to take him for a walk.
Have the lead ready and after 30 seconds of feeding through the muzzle, take him for a short rewarding walk. Remove the muzzle when you arrive home.
The whole exercise should be built up and performed in small stages. Your dog must welcome each step and the idea is to build up the duration but remove the muzzle before your dog gets anxious.
He may protest a little during step 6 but ensure he receives plenty of yummy treats.
If your dog does get overly concerned, start afresh the next day but go back a step.