Have a dog on crate rest? Here's how to keep you both sane.

All dogs at some time need confinement to a crate, or an X-pen for recovery. Rest and a reduction in physical movements are required to enable the body to heal, and recover.

Keeping dogs calm, and occupied over this period is not only vital to their recovery, but their mental health. We don't want sad confined dogs, or conversely dogs confined and going stir crazy.

It's important to note here that you should always consult your dogs healthcare professional if you are unsure if a certain activity is suitable for your dog and it's circumstances. 

First of all.... how to be sensible

Whilst in an ideal world we would have already ensured our dogs are happy and comfortable in a crate, and can enter and exit when cued calmly and in a controlled manner, sometimes crate rest is required before we have worked on these skills.

The key to ensuring your dog does not set back their recovery going into, and out of their crate during this period is preparation. I recommend having them wear an appropriately fitted, non restrictive harness (like the Balance harness) 24 hours a day. That way you can quickly and easily secure them with a hand on the harness to restrict their movement.

Keep a jar of cookies by the crate, and if your dog is getting over the top on exit decrease their excitement and arousal with food scatters. Do a small scatter prior to opening the door inside the crate, and then another scatter immediately outside the crate. This will lower arousal, slow their movements, and give you a chance to calmly hold their harness and clip on a leash. 

How to keep them happy - behavioral enrichment

Here are a list of ideas. Be sure to be thoughtful about your individual dog, their needs, and their recovery needs in selection of ideas.

Easy DIY options:

  • Fold up a towel, and twist it up with treats spread throughout
  • Muffin tin with treats spread out (to add more challenge put a tennis ball onto each muffin cup)
  • Tearable food puzzles: Chews, treats or food wrapped in various containers like toilet paper rolls, small boxes, paper bags, envelopes. As they get better at this, you can provide more challenge e.g. putting a treat into an envelope and then stuff the envelope into a smaller cardboard box. If your dog is a cardboard or paper consumer as opposed to a shredder you need to limit and supervise this activity. 
Snuffle Mats
Food in Kongs
  • Food in kongs, can be frozen. You can also stuff cow hooves and freeze them, which can then also be chewed. You can use their regular meals, and add liquid like bone broth or yoghurt if needed to ensure they freeze etc. Remember this amount will come out of the dog's daily food allowance.
Kong type toys with more challenge
  • There are now a huge range of different plastic/rubber stuffable food toys. Here's a few to check out: Westpaw Toppls (these are a favorite of ours!), Messy Mutts Mushroom, SodaPup honey pot, Zee dog stuffables and more.
Plastic bottles 
  • (with the plastic labels, lids and rings removed) with food / treats stuffed inside.
Food puzzle toys 
While these toys can sometimes have wet food and be frozen, they generally work better with dry food.
  • Snoop. You can also stuff the top with one of the orbee nooks to make it more challenging, OR put the snoop inside a cardboard box.
  • Orbee Tough Maze
  • Westpaw Rumbl
  • Buster food cube
  • Nina Ottosson toys
Food scatter snuffle time
  • Scatter a handful of kibble onto a small patch of grass. You could do this in a puppy pen, or tethered with a lead to restrict movement.
  • There are a huge range of these available, and this slows down eating and spreads smaller amounts further.
Go slow / slow feeder bowls
  • Feed meals in these, as it will provide more challenge. To make it even more challenging I freeze their meals into the go glow bowl and then give it to the dogs frozen.
Enrichment walks.
  • As they start to be allowed more walking time try gentle walks in new spaces with a harness, and long line. Don't ask for much, allow lots of sniffing and gentle exploring. To keep them settled you can throw kibble for more sniffling / searching behavior instead of getting wound up.
Long distance toilet walks
  • How about taking a scenic drive to a new place for their toilet walk?
Smell enrichment
  • Bring new plants, leaves, tree branches, herbal tea bags (google to check safety) herbs into your dogs area. Be careful doing this if you have a male dog that likes to pee on things!

Need less front paw involvement, or to keep the head up?

  • The puppy kongs small end fit's perfectly into the crate / puppy pen wire to lift the kong to head level
  • Attach a licky mat with a carabiner higher on the crate / puppy pen. You could even freeze this to make it more challenging.
  • Chase N Chomp Sticky bone - suction cup's onto a smooth surface.
  • You can use cable ties to stick most larger food stuffable toys up a little higher on the crate, and stabilise it so that they dont need to use their front paws.
  • There are a lot of licki mat type options that have suction cups
Think about rotating the enrichment activities, and feed all food in some kind of enrichment activity.

Here's some ideas of things you can train or work on with minimal movement.

Remember it's important to monitor your dog's excitement level and behavior and not work on things that make them excited and move lot's. Also be sure to choose a reinforcer that is highly arousing and associated with movement e.g. tug toys or balls. I would also tend to sit inside a small puppy pen area to restrict the area your dog can move in. Be sure to check with your healthcare professionals on all activities if your dog is unwell, or injured to make sure they are appropriate.

Remember that any reduction in physical activity, especially for a prolonged period of time will mean that your dog loses their physical condition. When you have clearance for training and physical activity it's important to consider how you build your dogs fitness back, before starting sports skill training and competition. Some supervised specific fitness training is an excellent way to do this!
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