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Bed Rest Games for Dogs Post-Surgery

In a perfect world, every family pet member would have adequate bed rest, access to appropriate physical therapy and rehabilitation post-injury or surgery which would encompass several modalities as well as ongoing home care. 

Following your pet’s release from the veterinary clinic it’s important to move your dog around safely to avoid pain or exacerbate further injury. Allowing dogs to walk or run without a leash, up and down stairs, walk on slippery floors and jump on the couch or into the car can cause extra pain and delay recovery.

Keeping your dog calm post-surgical procedure can be equally challenging for owner and pet. Get yourself organised prior to hospital discharge by purchasing a harness or sling, make sure your floors are non-slippery and set up a crate or a pen in a spot your dog can see everyone such as the living room. 

If your pet has never been confined or crate trained, it can be extremely difficult especially when you’re not at home which can lead to more distress. 

Once you have set up your environment, arrange a family member or animal carer to visit them while you’re at work. As soon as you're home, you can progress with stimulating your dog’s brain and all their senses with some of these mind games, food puzzles and activities.

Bed Rest Games to Keep your Dog Tranquil Post-Surgery

#1. Catch a Treat

Catch is for mouth - eye coordination, it’s an easy and fast method of teaching your dog to catch a treat.

  • Get good quality treats (small size) 
  • Have the dog sit in front looking at you, place the treat between your fingers 
  • Move the treat about 30cm above the dog’s nose and wait for the dog to open its mouth. 
  • Drop the treat (make sure the dogs front feet stay on the ground) and he doesn’t lunge for the treat. 
  • Repeat until your dog eagerly awaiting the treat falling in his mouth. 
  • Slowly extend the distance by keeping the next treat 30cm above the dog’s nose, move it towards you about 30cm and toss it. Repeat the new distance until your dog is catching the treat nearly every time. 
  • Once your dog is catching the treat from a further distance, start throwing the treats at different angles. 

#2. Snuffle Mat

In the wild, dogs spend a large part of their day hunting, scavenging and foraging for food. 

Snuffle Mat stimulates their natural searching instincts, helps to engage their mind and is invaluable during recovery.

#3. Stuffed Kong / food dispensing toys

By filling a Kong or using a food dispensing toy, the dog has an opportunity to “work” for their food
These food toys can help alleviate boredom, aid mind stimulation and also teaches your dog problem solving skills. 

A new toy on the market called the LickiMat works by keeping your dog’s mind occupied and anxiety free while they lick the mat for hidden pieces of food. 

Muffin Tin Game – All you need is a new or used muffin tray from your kitchen plus a few tennis balls, place a treat and ball in each cup, sit back and watch your dog apply their brain! 

You will find many more suggestions for boredom busters and puzzle games here...

#4. Name the Object

A great brain workout is teaching your dog names of objects and it can be extremely useful in the future. Start with your dog’s favourite toys, grab one toy and while playing with it, start using its name to ensure your dog’s assigns that value to it. Then place the toy with a few other on the floor and ask him to go get it.

#5. Puzzle Games

Unlike Kong and food toys, there are a number of interactive toys on the market that necessitate your dog to think and achieve a mechanical puzzle solving skill

Your dog will need your participation as soon as he solves the puzzle, you will need to put the toy back together to enable him solve the puzzle. Puzzles are lots of fun and a great way to encourage your dog to utilise his brain power...

#6. Nose Games 

Our doggie’s favourite and also ours! Utilising your dog’s natural smelling ability provides a great mental workout and can lead to fun indoor and outdoor nose work games and challenges. Dogs have excellent sense of smell however it takes practice to get them started. To start basic nose games, all you need is a few treats and a dog that loves treats! The following are some beginners games to try:

1. Which Hand? 

Take a treat and hide it in one of your hands, make a fist. Place two closed fists in front of your dog and ask him which hand, when he chooses the correct hand, praise him and open your hand to give him the treat.

2. Small or Large

Similar to “which hand”, take 5 small treats, hide one in your hand, make a fist and the other 4 in your other hand. Place two closed fists in front of your dog and ask him to choose Small / Large, when he chooses the correct (smallest) treat, praise him and open your hand to give him the treat.

3. Which Cup? 

Place a treat (or tennis ball) under a cup and have your dog sniff out the correct one, keep it simple at first and reward him when he chooses the correct oneOnce your dog is able to pick the correct cup, add extra cups and shuffle them for him to rely on his nose. 

4. Find it

Ask the dog to stay or ask him to wait in another room while you hide treats throughout the house (this game is valuable once they finished crate rest). Make sure they are easy to find in the beginning and they need to get used to sniffing them out. 

Once you release the dog, ask him to “find it” and praise when he discovers each one. You can make it as challenging as you want by hiding treats inside boxes, cupboards, under the mat etc. Once your dog has fully recuperated, hide the treats in the garden or balcony and ask him to “find it”.

5. Give it

Give it refers to the dog putting the item in your hand. It’s teaching your dog’s perception of what the cue means, instead of the dog worrying about losing the item (i.e. the ball being taken from his mouth), you are teaching him that he will get a treat and the item back again

Encourage your dog to play with a chosen toy. Once it is in his mouth, hold a high value treat right up to his nose with your hand under his chin and say “give it”. 

Some dogs may drop the toy right away, others may hesitate. Patiently hold the treat to the dog’s nose with your hand under his chin and wait quietly till he makes a decision.

As soon as the dog drops the toy, give him the treat, whisk the toy behind you with the hand it was dropped into and give him the toy back again. If the toy doesn’t work, try another item.

#7 .Teach your Dog to Accept Touch and Light Massage

The goal of this activity is to keep your dog tranquil whilst he learns to be touched by all family members (not all at once, one at a time). Get high value treats ready!

Position your body so it’s facing same direction as your dog. This is is usually seen as non-threatening, try not to lean over him, some dogs may find leaning over as intimidating or scary.

  • When picking up feet, especially a back one, remember that dog’s don’t naturally know how to stand on three legs. Place your other hand gently under their belly to give them support. Once your dog gets the hang of it, you won’t have to help them in the future. 
  • Hold the treat in one hand and hold it about 30 cm from your dog’s face, don’t tease the dog, just get them focused on the treat. 
  • Place the other hand along the dog’s neck, just a light touch. 
  • If the dog doesn’t move, give them the treat. 
  • If the dog moves, stop what you’re doing and just start again, repeat about 10 times or until the dog is feeling comfortable being touched all over. 
Repeat above steps with every part of the dog’s body, start softly and work up to being able to check between the paws, pull ears, pick the dog’s tail, etc.

Once you’ve mastered touch, proceed to light stroking all over the body, light massage enhances relaxation, reduces stress, aids circulation and releases endorphins.

#8. Things to Do with a Box

Take a simple cardboard box, cut the sides down to about three to four inches, place the box on the floor. 

Initially reward the dog when they go near the box with a treat. Next, throw the treat into the box, if the dog steps toward the box reward him with a treat.

Alternatively toss the treat in the box and hold another treat out in your hand to encourage the dog to come back to you. If your dog is unwilling to step in the box, they don’t eat that treat, it isn’t a huge problem. If treats accumulate in the box, it’s fine since when they step into the box, they will get a windfall.

#9. Physiotherapy Exercises

Physiotherapy exercises help reduce monotony by providing a good opportunity for intensive interaction between the owner and the pet. 

Ask your rehabilitation therapist to teach you safe and accurate ways to do specific movements. Exercises must be recommended to suit the specific dog depending on conformation, stage of recovery, personality, etc.

#10. Keep Dog Calm and Provide lots of Love

Keeping your dog calm by sitting with them on the couch or by their bed and listening to a CD like iCalmDog or the Pet Acoustics - Pet Tunes will ease any tension you both have, beware you may get addicted or even go into a trance! 

Displaying a lot of affection, chatting to your best friend and showering them with lots of love by cuddling and stroking them will strengthen your incredible bond and their quality of life, keep in mind that quality matters over quantity!

For additional crate and bed rest ideas and keeping dogs minds active and sharp, your could check out these great techniques by Donna Hill

Our understanding and awareness of games, activities and exercises for mental enrichment and rehabilitation practices are constantly expanding. We recommend you continue to work closely with your veterinary professional and rehabilitation therapist to achieve the best outcome for your furry family member.

Wishing your pet a speedy recovery!

Melina Grin from Pet Nurture love of animals began in childhood, when she would care for sick or stray dogs and cats while dreaming of becoming a vet. While working in the Veterinary field she found a distinct interest and passion in Small Animal Rehabilitation and Feline Behaviour. Today, her passion has become her profession.

Melina has many years of experience handling animals: her own of course, as well as pet sitting, dog walking, cat minding and caring for her clients’ beloved companions. In addition to her qualifications, Melina is a member of many professional associations including: Small Animal & Equine Naturopathic Association (SAENA), Veterinary Nurses Council of Australia (VNCA), DOGS NSW, Feline Nutrition Foundation.

Melina is currently studying to become a qualified Veterinary Nurse with a view to progressing to Canine & Feline Rehabilitation Therapy. She also volunteers regularly and gives her time and expertise to several animal rescue events and festivals.


Gabbard, J. (n.d.). How to Keep Your Dog Calm After Surgery. Retrieved July 20th, 2018, from
Monk, M. (n.d.). Retrieved from Dogs In Motion:
Owen, D. M. (n.d.). Rehabilitation Therapies for musculoskeletal and spinal diseasein Small Animal Practice. Bristol, Langford, United Kingdom. Retrieved June 12, 2018
Robinson, J. (2017, August 10). Bed Rest Games. Retrieved June 9, 2018
Vet, T. R. (n.d.). Crate Rest for dogs; advice for vets. Retrieved July 10th, 2018, from The Rehab Vet:


Individual blogs are based upon the opinions of the specific author, who retains full copyright. The material is not intended as medical advice, it’s intended as a sharing of knowledge and information. We encourage you to make your own pet health care choices in collaboration with a certified pet health care professional.

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