Managing Dogs During Restricted Exercise

Playing with your dog and teaching them new tricks will stop them from getting bored.

Created: 4/1/2016 Updated: 10/18/2021 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

Behaviour & Training, dogs, health, Health & Wellbeing, puppy, senior, training

Maintaining restricted exercise after an operation or injury is not always easy. Keeping a dog happy and calm whilst off their paws and finding a balance between physical rest and mental stimulation can be quite a challenge.

Being prepared, by thinking ahead, will make the process more manageable for you and your dog. Here are some tips and ideas from the OSCAR Helpline.

Crate rest

Crates can look barren and uninviting for your dog to use, but there are many positive and useful reasons to train your dog to use them. Restricted exercise is a perfect example. A crate will instantly provide you with a safe place to leave your dog where they can settle and get the rest they need.

If your dog isn't used to a crate, try reading our Positive Crate Training blog which will help to get you started. The training plan will allow you to introduce the crate so it becomes a safe, positive place for your dog to rest in. If your dog is already crate trained, but hasn't used their crate for some time, our blog may be helpful to refresh their training. It is a good idea to give them regular 'time-out' sessions in the crate to familiarise them with spending more time in it.

The dreaded head cone

Head cones and restricted exercise often come hand in hand. If your dog has had an operation or an injury, your vet may recommend a head cone while the wound heals. The cone is designed to prevent your dog from licking or disturbing the wound. Head cones come in different shape and sizes: there are plastic ones, fabric ones (which come in different colours) and blow up rings which fit nicely around your dog's neck. Choosing the right one can have an impact on how happy your dog will be. If you are able to prepare your dog to wear a head cone, it can make restricted exercise a lot less stressful.

Yawning dog with a cone

The inner sniffer dog

Unlock the 'inner sniffer dog' in your dog by changing meal times into a 'find and explore' mission! Dogs love to sniff, some more than others. It is an important part of their day-to-day behaviour. If you have a dog that is on restricted exercise, the opportunity to sniff and search around could be reduced. Providing games with food, allows your dog to have daily sniffing and exploring time which is low impact exercise. Here are some ideas…

  • Scatter feed your dog's meal. This can be done in the house or in the garden.

  • Hide your dog's food to find. This can be done in the house or in the garden. You can start off with a small search area and make the area larger as your dog gets better at the exercise.

  • Search and find mission. Placing food in cardboard boxes provides an instant search and find area for your dog to work through. You can make the searching harder by mixing in paper and toys for your dog to work around.

  • Activity toys. They are quick and easy for owners to fill up with food and provide a good opportunity for your dog to forage around.

Calm and relax time

Providing appropriate chews (such as rawhide and whimzee's) is a nice way to help your dog relax and settle. Chewing is therapeutic for dogs and can help relieve boredom and frustration. If your dog has a head cone on, you will need to remove it while they have their chew.

Alfie the Springer spaniel using the buster activity mat.

Training low level tricks

Teaching your dog some new 'low level' tricks can be a great way to stave off boredom! Use your dog's meal as a reward to avoid over feeding them and stop them piling on the pounds.

  • Introduce clicker training

  • Teach your dog to paw

  • Teach your dog to nose touch your hand and other objects

  • Teach your dog to find a toy

  • Teach your dog to go to their bed or crate

  • Teach your dog to lie down and stay in one place

This blog is aimed at providing safe and manageable solutions to dogs on restricted exercise. Always speak to your vet before implementing any of the advice in this blog.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email