When an active dog is suddenly confined in a cage--or crate--to recover from surgery, he won't understand what he's done wrong or why he can't exercise. A caring, patient owner must carefully use limited activity, attention, mental stimulation and possibly pharmaceutical sedatives to keep a dog happy during a period of crate rest. Most dogs will adjust to confinement within several days if they are kept occupied with toys and training.
Talk to your veterinarian about pharmaceutical options to keep your dog calm during the first few days of crate rest, while she adjusts to her new routine. A mild sedative may be prescribed to keep your dog drowsy and calm during the initial recovery period. If your dog isn't a candidate for medical sedation, ask your veterinarian about other calming agents, such as herbal supplements, essential oils or a pheromone diffuser. A pheromone diffuser is a device that emits into the room a vaporised pheromone (a hormone excreted by various animals and insects that conveys information to others of the same species). In this case, the dog-sensitive pheromone will calm your dog and help him cope with the stress of being stuck in his crate.
Provide your dog with a variety of safe toys and chews to keep him occupied in his crate. Look for toys that can be filled with food that the dog will slowly extract over the course of the day. For example, a Kong brand toy filled with canned dog food that has been frozen overnight can keep a dog busy for several hours. Durable chews such as elk antler sections are also useful. Bully sticks are a good choice for older dogs and small dogs who will chew them slowly.
Make the most of bathroom breaks and limited exercise periods as prescribed by your vet. If your dog is permitted to take a short on-leash walk each day, you can use this time to practice heeling slowly, heeling backwards, figure eights, automatic sits and other behaviours that will require your dog to think without placing extra stress on her body as she recovers from surgery.
Train new behaviours while your dog is in the crate. Using a clicker and treats, you can teach your dog numerous new tricks without ever removing him from his kennel. For example, you could give your dog a click and a treat every time he yawns, then pair the yawning behaviour with a command. Within a few brief training sessions, your dog should be able to yawn on cue.
Avoid stressing your dog during her crate rest period. Keep other pets away from the convalescing dog. Try not to invite visitors to your home or even rearrange furniture. Keep lights dim during the day and locate your dog's crate away from windows if she is prone to energetic barking and leaping when she sees passersby.
Don't hesitate to return to your vet if you have questions about your dog's recovery. Veterinarians would rather see a pet unnecessarily than have a surgical complication go untreated. When your dog is allowed to begin exercising normally again, remember that he'll be out of shape. Bring him back to a higher activity level gradually. Keep several toys for your recovering dog and rotate the selection in her crate each day. She should have at least three toys at a time, but these should be changed daily so that she's always enjoying a "new" toy or chew.
If your dog develops any obsessive-compulsive behaviours, like paw-chewing or circling in the crate, call your veterinarian as soon as possible. These behaviours can be dangerous, especially for a dog that has just undergone surgery. Don't medicate your dog without a veterinarian's recommendation. Even natural supplements might be harmful if used incorrectly.