Walking the Plank

How to teach a dog to use a ramp when she can no longer jump into the car.


“Some dogs, you put on the leash and they happily run right up the ramp and into the back of the SUV,” says Tufts animal behaviorist Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM. “Or you put a treat at the top of the ramp, and they immediately get the hang of it. Others have to learn how to use the ramp. It just depends on the dog.”

With dogs living longer than ever and more of them falling prey to arthritis and other orthopedic ills that compromise their ability to jump — into a car, onto the couch — helping our pets adjust to a ramp is critical for their quality of life. It might not matter for a 10-pound dog that you can lift with ease. But for a Lab, golden retriever, or German shepherd that’s too heavy to carry, not being able to use a ramp could affect her ability to take walks in favorite spots that have to be driven to, go to the doctor’s office, visit households not within walking distance, and engage in other activities that have always brought her pleasure or are necessary for her wellbeing.

Since most dogs that need ramps are old, you might assume that if using one doesn’t come naturally, she won’t be able to learn. Not true. “Research has shown that it might take an old dog a little longer to learn,” Dr. Borns-Weil says, “but once they learn something, they actually retain it better than younger dogs. If a dog doesn’t have dementia, she can learn till the very end of her life.”

Acclimating your pet

You can start by laying the ramp flat on the floor in the house or your backyard and playing with your dog next to it. From there move to putting food at one end and coaxing your dog to walk over to it. Then try putting the ramp at an angle going up to something that’s not as high as the back of the car — perhaps the bed. Again, use food as a lure. You can even clicker train your dog to walk up the ramp by using the word “ramp” as a cue to get her started and then rewarding her with a treat and praise when she reaches the top. Once she gets the hang of it, take the training out to the driveway so she can apply what she has learned to the actual vehicle she rides in.

Note that the ramp will not be the entire solution for every dog. If your pet has a lot of pain or instability in her hind legs, she may have trouble pushing off to ascend an incline. And if it’s her front legs that are causing her problems, climbing downwards can really do a number on her shoulders. In such cases, along with the ramp you may need to help hold up your dog on all fours with a harness that has two handles, like suitcase handles, as she makes her way to the top or bottom.

Choosing the Right Ramp

You know those footbridges made of wooden planks set far enough apart to see through them down to the water or rocks below as you walk across? Or the ones that sway or bow in unsteady fashion under your weight?

Just as many of us don’t like those sensations, a lot of dogs don’t, either, especially if they’re unsteady on their feet to begin with. That’s why for a dog that lacks confidence about ascending or descending an incline, you want to make sure to purchase a ramp that won’t move when she’s on it. It should feel stable so she can feel steady. The surface should be right, too — grippable, not slippery.

The grade also has to be something the dog can handle. If it’s too steep, she might not be able to deal with it. Some ramps are telescoping — they stretch out quite long so the incline remains as shallow as possible. But they close or fold up neatly enough so that they can be stored without taking up half your living room.

Here are a couple we like.

  • PetSafe Happy Ride Telescoping Pet Ramp. The telescoping design lets you get just the right incline for your car, SUV, or truck. It also allows for compact storage. And the high-traction walking surface will make your pooch confident on her feet. $99.95 on chewy.com.
  • PetSafe Happy Ride Folding Pet Ramp. An Amazon Best Seller, this lightweight
    (10-pound) folding ramp supports up to 150 pounds of dog, has side rails along with a high-traction surface, and folds in half. $69.95 on amazon.com.



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