Senior Dog using Solvit Ramp to navigate stairs
dogs,  senior dogs,  training,  wellness

Senior Dogs & Stairs

After nearly 5 days on the road, Deuce and I were relieved to arrive at our temporary home in Williamsburg, VA.

Old Dogs new tricks. Using a ramp to navigate stairs for old dogs with hip problems. Black dog on ramp.

Then we realized that there are stairs at every entrance. Four steps to the back deck, 5 brick steps to the front door and 4 wooden steps in the garage. Not to mention the 15 steep stairs to get to the guest suite.

Why hadn’t I remembered this?

Senior Dog Hip Health

In Tucson our home was one story and there were no steps to get in or out of the house. We’d selected this home because of it’s lack of stairs. Kiera was older and her legs were failing by the time we arrived out West and it was important that she had an easy time getting in and out of the house.

Now it’s time to give the same consideration to Deuce and her arthritic hips and faltering dog knees.

Older dogs are prone to hip and knee issues – some breeds moreso than others. I’ve always done my best to keep my dogs at an optimum weight to avoid undue pressure on their knees as they aged, but both of them had some Chow Chow and shepherd in their genes and the knee challenges were bound to crop up.

Both Kiera and Deuce had torn cranial cruciate ligaments. The only good news about Kiera having had the tear, was that I caught Deuce’s tear when it was still a partial tear and managed to address it before it became a full tear.

As they age, these active dogs suffer from arthritis in their hips and other joints. My job is making sure my dog is comfortable and happy as she ages.

Pros & Cons of Dog Harnesses

For the first day or two I used the hiking jacket I’d gotten to help lift Deuce up and down the stairs.

The jacket is relatively easy to put on and take off. It’s a nice shade of blue with reflective piping around the edges. It has two clasps, one around the chest and one around the belly and the handle is on the top for me to get a grip on when I feel she needed more support.

This harness is like a jacket and is sturdy, however it is most practical for providing extra support while hiking over rocky or cumbersome terrain. There isn’t specific support for the back hips and knees. While using it I felt that I could life Deuce easier than picking her up, yet I didn’t feel that I could count on it to steady her hind legs if her legs started to buckle.

Not only that, she didn’t love wearing the jacket and as soon as the famous Virginia humidity kicked in, the jacket would be completely unbearable. Deuce is a fuzzy, black dog and while Mother Nature provides built-in tools for regulating heat and cold, I can’t bear to layer clothing of any sort on my dogs in the swamp of summer.

The knee brace we had made to support her when her CCL (dog knee) had a partial tear didn’t fit correctly any more and it seemed to cause her undue pressure on the other knee.

Solvit Deluxe Telescoping Ramp

I’ll admit to losing sleep over this. We moved across the country in a fairly high stress situation and I had no back-up plan or budget for moving any time soon. Besides, one story living isn’t as predominant here as it was in Tucson.

Within a few days I was researching dog mobility ramps on line. I found the Solvit Deluxe Telescoping Ramp on Chewy.com (by the way, this is not an affiliate link, however, Chewy, if you want to talk – let’s get together).

The regular size, which weighs 13 pounds, folds up for easy carrying and can expand from 39 to 72 inches, is perfect for the back steps and the telescoping option is nice for using the ramp in the car or moving to other stairs when we visit friends or pet-friendly locations where stairs are inevitable.

The advertised “high traction walking surface” isn’t as slip proof as described. This was noted in several reviews and I was prepared with plans for purchasing treads at the local hardware store if necessary.

Training Your Old Dog

When I first laid the ramp out on the living room floor, Deuce wanted nothing to do with it. No matter how many high value treats I put on the ramp she was not going to step on it. (It’s narrow enough that she could lean her head in and grab the treat without having to step on the ramp.

Eventually I brought the ramp outside to the steps and placed it on the bottom step. This way the ramp was nearly flat but still usable. With her jacket on we began practicing on the lowest step. I’d help guide/carry her to the ramp and have her walk down and up with me beside her.

Lots of high value treats were used during this process – shout out to the kind folks at Williamsburg’s Nautical Dog.

Over the course of a week, I raised the ramp from the bottom step to the top and Deuce quickly realized that this was her ticket to getting out to the opportunity to sniff out rabbits. Now she tries to show off and leap on and off the ramp.

I think our training would have been faster if it hadn’t rained the better part of our time here. One morning we nearly lost all progress when the rain from the night before had transformed to an ice slick on the ramp when the temps dropped to the 20s. Luckily, after we both slid on the deck I grabbed the mud towel and put it over the ramp to make sure the surface was easy to use.

Sadly, there are no ramps long enough to traverse the stairs to the guest suite, but we’ve made adjustments to living on the first floor and we’re both learning how we really feel about tiny-house living!

Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to get step-by-step details (and pictures) on how I trained my old dog to perform the new trick of getting up and down the ramp like a pro.

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Writer and dog lover, helping pet-related businesses tell their stories.

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