Phil’s New Car Ramp

Did you know that once your dog is 7 years old they are considered a senior? You might start to notice signs of arthritis and joint stiffness as they age and things like jumping up on the couch or into the car can become increasingly difficult.
 

The struggle is real, even more so for an elderly tri-pawed dog like Phil the Greyhound. Phil had his front right leg amputated three years ago due to Osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, but he was determined not to let that slow him down. He would jump up excitedly at the mention of the word “car”, eager to go for a drive to visit family or a favourite park.

However, as Phil ages, his mobility is gradually reducing and there have been times when he has stumbled while jumping in or out of the boot of our SUV.  Knowing that any serious injury to his remaining legs would have drastic implications for his quality of life, we decided it was time to reduce his risk of tripping by introducing a car ramp.

There are many car ramps available on the market. In choosing a ramp we considered:

  • The length of the ramp and the angle of incline.
  • The sturdiness and weight capacity of the ramp, given he is a big 35kg boy.
  • The surface of the ramp, was it non-slip?
  • How well it folded up for easy transport when not in use.

We managed to find one that met our criteria online.

Next came the process of introducing Phil to the ramp.  If you are lucky you will have a dog that eagerly walks up the ramp first time, but it is more likely that your dog, like Phil, will be worried and hesitant at this new “trick” we are asking them to perform.

Poor Phil didn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to jump up into the car as usual, so it will take time and practice for him to gain confidence using the ramp. Initially, our daughter walked up the ramp to show Phil that it was safe and to encourage him from inside the car. (We knew that she was within the weight limit recommended by the manufacturer). It took lots of encouragement but eventually, Phil bravely hopped along the ramp into the car.

Below we share some of the things that are helping Phil with this process.

Use treats.
Like any training, having high-value rewards to encourage your dog is important.

Use a lead.
If your dog usually jumps into the car without their lead on, you may find it helpful to have them on a short leash while training them to use the ramp. This will prevent them from jumping up and help direct them along the ramp. Of course, the lead should never be used to drag them against their will up the ramp.
 

Keep it fun.
Build an association between using the ramp and going on a fun outing (definitely not just a visit to the vet).  We made sure that once Phil was in the car that we went to one of his favourite places. Unfortunately, when we arrived there and set up the ramp, Phil refused to come out. I was heartbroken. I didn’t want to make car rides into something scary so we put the ramp away and drove to another of his favourite parks. We then allowed him to jump out as usual and have a happy play. It is important to keep training sessions short and gauge your dog’s limits. Pushing things too far and too fast will cause them stress and may make them fearful of the ramp.


Break it down.
Like any new skill, breaking it down into manageable chunks makes it much easier to learn.

We found that Phil was much more amenable to going up the ramp than going down, so for now we are only using the ramp for getting into the car. Once he is completely comfortable doing this, we will introduce the next step which is using the ramp to leave the car. You may need to break it down even further if your dog is fearful of the ramp; encouraging one or two steps onto the ramp or encouraging them to use the ramp while it is flat on the ground and not at an incline.

Start Early.
Phil is still able to jump up and down but as his grey hairs increase and his mobility decreases, we know there will come a time when using the ramp will be the only way he can get in and out of the car. He is much too heavy for us to lift! That is why we are starting this process now. It means that we can take our time to train him to use the ramp, going at his own pace without undoing his joy of car rides. If I had thought about it, I would have trained him to use a ramp years ago!

 

If you’re truly blessed and lucky, one day your dog will be elderly. Why not train them to use a ramp while they are still young and full of energy? Once they are confident with it, you wouldn’t need to use the ramp all the time, just occasionally so they remain familiar with it. Then, when they are a sweet old geriatric dog, using the ramp will not be a new experience.

But never fear… you can still teach an old dog new tricks! Even a three-legged one named Phil!

Written by Tracy McNally, Animal Caretaker.

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