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How to Entertain a Dog After Surgery


My dog is recovering from surgery and there isn’t much I can do with him to keep him stimulated. After all, he is on strict rest orders, no jumping, no playing, and certainly no long walks or running at the park. So we are stuck for four months and my dog won’t have stimulation. That was then and oh so long ago and does not apply to me and my dog in the least. Now we have ways of how to entertain a dog after surgery.

Reality: My dog is recovering from surgery and if I don’t keep his mind stimulated and in some way, shape, and/or form knowing that life is off kilter but not in pause mode, he will become depressed.

Reality: There are things you should do with your dog if he or she is injured, recovering, or had surgery: An inactive mind can lead to a lot of things: Depression, bad habits, and a sad pooch. I think of all those pets in shelters across the world waiting for homes and the level of anxiety, fear, and boredom that must take over. There are rescue groups that donate things like busy toys (Kong) for example so that the dogs’ minds stay active. Would you want to be locked up in a kennel all day waiting for what’s next? Me either. So if you have a dog that is at home with you and is on strict orders to get well soon, including rest, here is a list of things that have worked for us in the past and that we are implementing at present:

Lose the E-Collar

The cone of shame need not bring a dog’s spirits down. I know my dog would be more upset and depressed in wearing an Elizabethan collar aka “cone of shame” than the actual surgical recovery itself. So I looked into other options, and low and behold: There are viable lick preventative measures that are available for pet parents who want an E-collar alternative. Granted, some dogs will figure out how to get through garments and bandages, so I wanted something easy to use, safe for my dog, and that would not dampen his spirits. Enter the onesie from Tulane’s Closet. Check it out in this video. Oh and folks who guffaw at a dog who wears clothes or who turn their nose up at the idea of dogs in couture, get this: My dog is totally okay with a onesie because, after all, it’s just clothes to him. If clothes aren’t your thing, consider a soft cone at the very least or the BiteNotCollar.

Play Brain Games

I am a strong advocate for teaching a dog a variety of skills so that when some of them are needed in a crunch time (like postop period), dog moms and dads can call upon them. Case in point: The Nina Ottosson Collection of games is designed to exercise the brain. These activity toys encourage problem solving in a multitude of ways: finding hidden treats via lifting and pushing blocks, pushing pieces and turning discs. The Kong line of mind-stimulating toys fit the bill as dogs start to regain mobility or are given clearance to walk from their treating veterinarian.


Trick Training

My dog gets cabin fever when stuck inside too long, so imagine being under doctor’s orders not to walk. Put a treat in one hand or under a cup and see if your dog can find it from his seated position. Since sedentary dogs tend to gain weight, keep the type of treats to a low-cal or healthy minimum. There are plenty of snack options in my pal, Katie Newman’s book, The Amazing Treat Diet for Dogs, which we highly recommend. Matter of fact, we shaved 2 pounds off Dexter’s weight in the month or so before surgery.


Physical Rehab

With many postop periods, ask your dog’s veterinarian if physical therapy is an option. We will be engaging in this, as the recovery process takes about four months. Dexter tore his ACL and had extracapsular surgery to repair it. While under the knife, a damaged meniscus was discovered, so the surgeon removed that portion as well. With clearance in several weeks, the physical therapy process begins. If a rehab center is not viable nor financially feasible, consider in-home rehab if done properly.

Massaging a dog is therapeutic, so no matter what level of recovery a dog is in, a proper massage done by a loving pet parent relieves stress, calms the nervous system, reduces pain perception, helps eliminate toxins and reduce swelling/edema, and triggers the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Just use caution in how you massage, where you massage, and pay attention to your dog’s body signals: Stop if he or she is not enjoying the massage. Never apply too much pressure and seek professional guidance on how to massage a dog. In reality, it isn’t that hard, and here’s an instructional dog massage website. Many of these techniques can be used for dogs in general: How to Massage a Dog

Cold IV laser therapy, groovy baby

Keep it Short and Sweet

Don’t overdo any sort of interaction session. Keep in mind that a dog with pain can and may snap and/or bite. I know this from first-hand experience. My last Cocker Spaniel injured her knee and en route to the hospital she snapped at a family member out of pain. She was the sweetest dog but pain is pain and dogs will react.

Medication and its side effects also make dogs feel very different from their norm, so don’t spend large pockets of time on any sort of brain games. If you can do one to two sessions a day of some sort of stimuli, this is perfect. Think about how you feel when you are recovering from surgery. I know the last thing I want is someone bugging me to move around and do something that tires me out quickly. Never force a dog to do something, especially a dog under strict medical care. Always follow veterinary instructions first and foremost. If you are not sure whether an activity is appropriate for your dog’s recovery, ask.

Short and sweet: the sessions and the dog

Know What to Expect

Know about therapeutic modalities for dogs undergoing body injury or surgery. Physical rehab can include acupuncture, underwater treadmill, water therapy, class IV cold laser therapy (we did this and will again), massage and stretching, balance board, hot/cold therapy and more. These activities not only strengthen a body back to its norm but stimulate the mind and prevent boredom.

With an IV line in, Dexter awaits surgery

Modified Favorite Toy Time

“Hide the balls now.” I was told this over and over by those in the know and those who know Dexter. Spaniels love their squeaky balls. I say nope. We just modify how we play what we play and when and where we do it. So while the box of balls is out of the way, it isn’t put away. We lay on the bed and gently play tug of war with the squishy ball. I reward Dexter with a soft treat every minute or so for letting the ball go and giving it to me. He knows letting the ball go gets him a treat. He knows we aren’t rough housing. This should only be done if you are certain the dog is able to move his or her neck and has doctor’s orders to do so.

Play time, modified style

Know When to Start and When to Quit

Medication, especially antibiotics and pain pills, can lead to an upset digestive tract, constipation, or diarrhea. Never engage a dog who appears to be sick or may have a tummy issue. Keep in mind that dogs, much like their wolf ancestors, hide pain well. If Dexter thinks a ball throwing session is in order, his little butt would be up and running on three legs in no time. We are on strict orders that ball playing of the traditional sense is prohibited.

Get Outside

Depending on the size of your dog, consider a pet stroller. I picked one up from the Pet Gear line that is called a Jogger Stroller, with great wheels and able to accommodate a dog up to 70 pounds. I want my dog to feel like we are not neglecting the outside world and his presence in it. So we pack up the stroller and take short but much-needed walks in it. He loves it, and I trust that as the weeks go by this stoller will be used quite frequently. If a stroller isn’t something you’d consider for a Great Dane or a dog that is wiggly or girthy, then just get outside and sit somewhere together. Let the dog feel the blades of grass between his paw pads and just get some fresh air in his lungs. Can you get Fido into a car? Find a favorite spot and just sit there. It’s a change of scenery. I know when I had my surgery last year, it felt good to get out of the house. Let passersby know that your dog is not be disturbed. Remember, even a super friendly dog, like my Dexter, will react and snap if in pain.

Have dog, will travel

There are many other exercises and mind-stimulating activities and games you can do with your dog to keep him entertained after an injury or surgery. Google some of them if you are so inclined. Keep in mind a convalescing dog may need a special kennel, x-pen, or buggy/stroller to allow them to walk not putting strain on an injury.  Larger dogs can benefit from a specially made buggy, ramps, and hand held harnesses to lift their bottom as they walk the road to recovery.

Have a tip for keeping a dog occupied safely while convalescing? Bark at me below in the comments.


A dog lover of the highest order is how Gayle King introduced Carol Bryant, when she appeared with her Cocker Spaniel on Oprah Radio’s Gayle King show to dish dogs. Carol created and owns the trademark, My Heart Beats Dog® and lives that mantra. A 30-year veteran of the dog world, she is President of the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) and the 2020 DWAA winner for Best Dog Blog.


  1. Becky says

    You sure are a good doggy mom. Any animal would be lucky to have you. Your ideas are awesome and I’ve bookmarked this list for future reference. Hopefully, I won’t have to use it, but at least I know where to find it.

  2. Cynthia says

    I’ve been known to sleep the first 24 hours or so w/one my pets after surgery just to be sure they’re “ok” then we just follow the vets orders & go slow, they usually let you know what they feel up to doing but as was mentioned they hide pain well so you have to be aware of that. Meds can cause upset stomachs so special diets are in order for a while. I like to hide treats around the house one the floor so they can find them easily & simply just sitting outside perks them up! This was a GREAT article!

  3. Kolchak, Felix & Jodi says

    I’m in full support of anything that keeps a dog off of a wound without one of those wretched cones. That’s actually why I make Koly & Fe wear a variety of clothes, hats, wraps etc. year round. Sure, the halloween costumes are silly and fun, but it’s also teaching them that if I put something on, it STAYS ON.

    Can I suggest a bit of nose work if Dexter is food motivated? It worked wonders with working Koly’s brain during our long, wet BC winter last year and it’s easy to set up in your own living room or yard.

    • Carol Bryant says

      I LOVE the idea of nose work, Jodi – and yes suggest away. Dexter’s half brother does it and is a pro at it. TY for that….he loves hide and seek, btw.

  4. emma says

    You have some great tips there! That cone of shame is the absolute worst. I learned the no lick command asap as I realized it kept me from wearing that awful thing when I had surgery. My sister has worn Mom’s clothes to keep that awful cone from being put on. I’m such a baby, I did not want to do anything until about 10 days after my surgery but then I slowly came back to life. Four months is a very long time, but you have great ideas and especially getting Dexter outside. Especially dogs like us that are out a lot would really miss it being cooped up in the house. The stroller or even pulling a dog in a wagon if they aren’t the type to jump out are great ideas! Hopefully we will never have to spend four months doing pretty much nothing! Barks and howling get better soon messages from me 🙂

    • Carol Bryant says

      Thanks, Emma. We ordered a second Tulane’s Closet postop onesie today. I talked to the founder yesterday to tell her how much I love her paw-roduct. She tells me they have a cat version they are working on, too. And I ordered a second one so there is always a clean one on hand.

  5. Amelia Hughes says

    Dexter is one lucky kid! Thanks for sharing his journey. Lots of love and thought (and great photos) that went into this post make the idea of my fur kids needing surgery less scary. Great advice and ideas in planning and preparing for post op for the fur kids….I love the onesie versus an e collar. Hope Dexter is doing well with his recovery!