This guide is meant to educate you on safe exercises for your dog after ACL surgery. Exercises below are to help your dog recover faster, aid with confinement jitters, and act as a point of reference for the exercises explained by your veterinarian. Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s advice and do not speed up the process, even if your dog appears capable.
All of these exercises must be performed on a non-slippery surface like carpet (with traction), yoga mat, grass, or non-slip tiles. This process is typically stressful for your dog as they fear to put weight on that leg, so you should have a calm, joyful demeanor to reduce stress and boost their confidence. Use a toy or treat to keep your dog engaged. If using treats, be sure to remove this from their total meal to prevent weight gain. Another important note, that unless advised otherwise by your vet, you should perform exercises prior to giving them pain medication. A dog may be more inclined to exert their leg more than they should because of the lack of pain due to the medication. If you are unable to do this, keep this in mind and control your pup’s movements well. This should be a fun bonding activity for you and your dog so approaching it with a positive attitude will go a long way! Lastly, be sure to follow strict crate rest or confinement to a small area. Allowing your dog to roam around could lead to further injury.
If at any point you notice your dog has stopped putting weight on the affected leg or regresses in their ability to do the exercise, please contact your veterinarian. The following are a list of exercises with explanations of how to perform the exercise and their progression.
This may be obvious and was already mentioned about but it is very very important to follow this, especially in the first two weeks. A slow and controlled walk will help maintain strength. The first 14 days should be for 3-5 minutes twice a day on a level surface (no hills or steps in the beginning). This can then be increased to 5-10 minutes on week 3-4 and so forth. Be sure to keep your dog on leash to control their movement.
This exercise strengthens the leg muscles, helps with limb placement, and weight placement of affected the leg.
- Stand or kneel behind your dog and have them stand squarely on the ground. Place a toy or treats in front of them to keep them looking straight, another person for this exercise helpful. If not you can use a chair in front of them with the treat or toy to keep them facing forward.
- Place your hands on their hip and gently push your dog’s hip from side to side to encourage them to put weight on the affected leg. Push 5 times to each side (total of 10 times).Do not allow their feet to shuffle to the side.
- Repeat this 2-3 more times
- Week 1: not ready
- Week 2-4: 2-3 session per day
- Week 5+: can keep doing this exercise if desired, especially if you notice they do not put weight evenly on their leg.
This exercise stretches the spinal muscles to help relieve any pain from build up tension in the back and encourages weight bearing.
- Stand or kneel in front of your dog and support their stomach with your hand.
- Use a treat or toy to bend their head to the left by guiding the treat to their mid body, hold for 2-3 seconds.
- Still using a treat, repeat on the right side
- Do this 5 times on each side and repeat 2-3 times
- Week 1-2: not ready
- Week 3+: 2-3 session per day
This exercise encourages weight bearing on the affected leg, strengthens muscles, and improves limb placement. If you notice your dog not wanting to put any weight, then contact your veterinarian.
- Face your dog and have them stand evenly with all legs on the ground facing you.
- Pick up your dog’s front leg (opposite to the affected leg) and hold for 2-3 seconds. Make sure that your dog’s affected leg stays on the ground. For example, if your dog got ACL/CCL surgery on his back right leg, then you would pick up his front left leg.
- Release their leg and repeat again. If 2-3 seconds is too much then do it for a shorter period of time.It is more important that your dog bears weight evenly and firmly than for them to be able to do it for longer time.
- Do this 10 times in a row (if your dog seems up to it) for 2-3 sessions per day
- Week 1-3: hold for 2-3 seconds
- Week 4-6: hold for 5-8 seconds
- Week 7-9: hold the opposite HIND leg now and hold for 5-8 seconds
- Week 10+: have them stand on a cushion or yoga mat (to add instability) and hold the opposite hind leg for 5-8 seconds.
This exercise helps with limp placement and strengthens their back and leg muscles.
- Grab a small step stool or use a solid block (nothing unstable in the beginning) and have your dog only put their front legs on the step
- Have them stand there in that inclined position for 10-15 seconds. Using a treat to hold them there will help!
- Lead them off the step and rest for 20-30 seconds. Do this 3-5 times for 2-3 sessions per day.
- Week 1-2: not ready
- Week 3-4: hold for 10-20 seconds
- Week 5-7: hold for 20-30 seconds and have them shift weight forward and back. Their feet should not move.
- Week 8-10: hold for 30-45 seconds and have them shift weight.
- Week 10+: instead of a step or stable surface, use a large cushion and have them hold for 30-45 seconds.
This exercise helps with limb placement, stability, and strength.
- Have your dog on a short leash and walk in a figure 8 pattern to the left and to the right.
- Do 3-5 figure 8 patterns and rest. Repeat 2 more times and do 2-3 sessions per day.
- Start off with a wide figure 8 pattern and then tighten it as the weeks progress.
- Week 1-4: not ready
- Week 5+: Start with a wide figure 8 pattern and slowly tighten over the next 3-4 weeks. You can start to change direction more quickly (if your dog is ready) at week 7.
This exercise increases strength and body awareness.
- Stand in front of your dog and have them stand squarely facing you.
- Tell your dog to sit by using a treat (if needed). Make sure that they do not sit to the side, they must be sitting squarely. If you notice that they are favoring one side then have them sit next to a wall to make them sit evenly.
- Use a treat to make them stand up again. Repeat this 8-10 times for 2-3 sessions per day.
- Week 1-4: not ready
- Week 5-10: do this exercise directly on a non-slip floor
- Week 10+: do this exercise on a cushion
This exercise is good for weight bearing, range of motion, core, and back strength.
- Set up 4 cones (or boxes, whatever you have handy that works to weave). Space them far apart, but still close enough to where they have to turn. You can gradually move them together as the weeks go by. Spacing will depend on the size of your dog.
- Walk your dog (with a leash) through your set up by weaving through the cones. Do this nice and slow.
- Do this 5 times, stop and rest for 20-30 seconds and repeat two more times. You can do 2 sessions per day.
- Week 1-4: not ready
- Week 5-10: gradually decrease the distance between the cones so your dog has to bend more. This can be done instead of figure 8’s.
This exercise is good for body awareness, range of motion, and muscle strengthening.
- Place 4-6 poles (approx. 3 feet in length) on the ground. You will start off by placing the poles directly on the ground and as the weeks progress you will be elevating the poles off the ground. Measure your dog from their shoulder to the floor and this will be the distance at which to space the poles. When it’s time to elevate the poles, place them at wrist height.
IMPORTANT: Place an object on each side of the pole (when they’re on the ground) so it does not roll. If you do not do this, your dog could accidentally step on the pole and it could roll resulting in injury.
- Use a leash to guide your dog over the poles. You can place treats between each pole if you’re having trouble getting your dog to walk through. Your dog should walk through it with slow and controlled steps.
- Walk them through 4-5 times, rest for 20-30 seconds and repeat two more times for 2 sessions per day.
- Week 1-4: not ready
- Week 5-6: poles on the ground. Increase the distance between the poles on week 6.
- Week 7-10: Raise poles to wrist height. Increase distance between poles on week 9.
- Week 10+: Your dog can walk the first set and trot one and walk again on the third.
The post-surgery exercises for a torn ACL are extremely important to help your pup get back to their regular life. They will encourage your dog to bear weight on the affected leg, strengthen their muscles, increase their body awareness, and range of motion. If at any point you notice that your dog does not want to bear weight on the leg or is having trouble with the exercises, talk to your veterinarian.