If your dog has had any type of CCL surgery, whether the repair is strong from the start (Ex: TPLO) or one that needs more time to heal (Ex: Lateral Suture Stabilization) you'll need to be vigilant when you're outside. For the first few days, your dog will electively move slowly. But don't be fooled; dogs that walk on three-legs and ones who are just beginning to touch their paw to the ground can move much faster than you think.
And this is where we see dogs aggravating the post-op leg. The owner takes them outside on-leash and something grabs the dog's attention. Before you know it, he's doing zoomies in the yard, pulling on the leash or standing on his hind legs with his front paws in the air. As if the post-operative dog isn't dealing with enough pain, many owners admit that while walking their dog is approached and being bitten/attacked or pinned to the ground by another dog. Your dog will instinctively try to flee the scene or if pinned under another dog, use his surgical leg to try and kick his way free. Each of these examples has the potential to cause setbacks in your dog's recovery.
Be careful of these things:
Exercise your dog in a predictable place where he's familiar with the sights, sounds and activities there. This precautionary measure doesn't guarantee that your dog won't react to something he's usually okay with. Even the most relaxed dog can become hyper-reactive after surgery because he knows he's vulnerable and in pain and so might other dog that approach him.
For that reason, I recommend staying as close to home as possible. Even if your dog seems depressed and you think that walking in a dog park would cheer him up, I highly advise against it because there are too many variables you can't control. If your neighborhood isn't a good place to walk and there are lots of distractors that will tempt your dog to run, jump or be reactive, then I recommend staying in your yard.
Will it be boring? Yes. But can you more easily control the situation? Yes. Walk in the area that's the quietest and that has the least activity. Front yards have streets, vehicles and other walkers, but your back yard might be quieter, so walk there. If you have other pets, it's best to take them out separately.
No matter where you walk, as you change direction, take wide angles as sharp turns are harder on your dog's sensitive, painful knee.
If you walk in a neighborhood, and there's a house that has unruly pets, walk to just before that house and turn around. As the walk duration increases, you can repeat what I just mentioned multiple times so that you're still getting the right amount of exercise, but you're doing so in a way that minimizes the chances of your dog being reactive.
Best wishes with your post-op outdoor jaunts. If someone you know has a dog who recently had CCL surgery, please share this blog post with them.
If you've experienced or heard of a post-surgical dog getting into trouble or injuring himself on a walk, share the story by leaving a comment below.