As your dog gets older, you’ll need to practice patience and compassion for your senior pet. It may be difficult for him to accept that as he ages, he’ll need to make some lifestyle changes in order to make his life easier. It’s not unusual for older pets to use portable steps and ramp ways to make their way around the house and to get in and out of the car. However, they must be taught how to use these devices. To keep your dog safe and mobile, we recommend these tips when teaching your senior dog to use a ramp or stairs.
Why use a ramp or stairs?
If your senior dog is slow or has difficulty getting up on to things, stairs and ramps can be quite useful. Stairs can be placed next to stationary resting areas, like a bed or couch. Ramps are portable, can fold up, and be taken places; these are ideal for getting in and out of the car. It’s important to choose a ramp or stairs with an anti-skid surface, giving your dog a place to grip his paws and making it less likely for him to slip or jump off the edge. Positive reinforcement should always be used when teaching your dog how to use the ramp or steps. This reinforcement will make the experience more enjoyable for your dog, and make him more likely to use these devices with confidence even if you aren’t present.
Ramps can be adjusted for height depending on what they are resting on, making them easy to use with a gradual incline when first beginning to train. When you start training, practice by laying the ramp on a stable flat area where it won’t slide, like on carpet or in the grass. Lure your dog across the flat ramp with a treat. As you start out, give him a treat when he puts one paw up on the ramp. Then, give him a treat for placing two paws on the ramp. As you progress with these tasks, move the treat towards the center of the ramp. As soon as he has all four paws on the ramp, reward your dog with treats as he follows your hand across the ramp to the other side. The end goal is to have your pet follow the treat in your hand from one end of the ramp to the other. Once your pooch has mastered these skills on flat ground, add an incline to the ramp. As he learns, you can decrease the treats and use your empty hand in their place. Eventually, he will get up and down the ramp on his own with only an occasional treat.
When training your dog to use the stairs, be patient and go at a slow pace. Create a trail of treats from the bottom of the stairs to the top and onto the couch or bed. While your dog curiously sniffs the treats, stand next to him and gently praise him while adding treats on to the next step or two. Another option is using a lure held slightly in front of your dog’s nose and reward him for following it. Make sure you practice going up the stairs, as well as going down, because some pets may have trouble doing one more than the other. Once your dog begins to use the stairs with ease, phase out the treats. This can be achieved by adding a verbal cue like “climb” or by using your empty hand to lure him. You can also place one treat just at the end of beginning of the steps to encourage him to do the entire staircase. Always praise your pet with petting and a happy, calm voice.
Having an aging dog can require more attention, patience, and compassion. Just like people, dogs can develop conditions that make it hard for them to get around and participate in their daily activities. To make your life, and your senior dog’s easier, teaching him to use a ramp or stairs will help. After they learn these skills they will be able to get around the house and into the car successfully once again.