As dogs age, it’s not uncommon for them to develop hip or leg issues that make getting in and out of a vehicle difficult and painful. It’s easy to continue to view your companion as he always was, young and energetic, forgetting that physical capabilities decline for our canine friends, just as they do for us. We don’t expect an older parent or friend to get in and out of a car without some assistance; why would we expect an aging pet to do it?
Certain breeds – often the larger ones – tend to be more susceptible to conditions like hip dysplasia, and those problems are intensified in pets that are inactive and overweight. A portable dog ramp is a useful and affordable solution, particularly if you have trouble lifting the dog in and out of the vehicle yourself.
But how do you know if your dog will even use a pet ramp? While it’s hard to predict with 100% certainty, here are a few considerations.
We don’t expect an older parent or friend to get in and out of a car without some assistance; why would we expect an aging pet to do it?
If your dog goes up steps without hesitation, it may be a good indicator but not definitive proof for success with a dog ramp. Observe how your pet behaves on staircases that are more open and not completely enclosed to try to replicate conditions similar to what your dog would experience while using a dog ramp for an SUV, car or pickup truck.
You may also want to create a small “test” ramp at an angle similar to the pet ramp of your choice to assess whether your dog will climb the ramp voluntarily. This initial “test” ramp should be short and stable, and a little extra encouragement may be necessary. Start with the ramp in a flat position before moving on to a slight incline. Offering your dog a treat or food works well, holding it in front of the dog’s nose as you lead him slowly up the ramp. Hopefully, the desire for the treat exceeds his fear of the ramp and eventually, it may be equated as a game or a positive event.
The ideal scenario is to teach your canine to use a ramp while still a puppy, before it even becomes a physical necessity. Young or old, once you start picking your dog up to load and unload, his expectation may well be that you will continue to do so. Start slowly, gradually increasing the length and use of the dog ramp so the behavior becomes an everyday routine and second nature for you both. Not only will this save your own back from having to lift your pet in and out of the car, it may also prevent or lessen the development of long-term hip or leg injuries that can result from years of a repeated jumping motion and landing on a hard, jarring surface.
When selecting ramps for dogs, remember that a longer ramp has a lower degree of incline. This may prove easier for your pet to climb, especially if it is a new skill for him, and improve the likelihood of your animal’s success at using it. Since many dog ramps are available that either fold in half or telescope to reduce the storage length required, you want to purchase the longest ramp possible that will store easily in your vehicle.
Ramps also come in varying widths. The general rule of thumb is the larger your dog, the wider the ramp you need. The wider ramp provides additional room for the dog if he becomes distracted and gets “off track” while loading or unloading.
Construction of pet ramps is either aluminum or composite materials. Aluminum ramps require minimal care and won’t rust or break down if exposed to UV rays. Composite ramps are lighter and less likely to scratch the paint on your van or SUV. Also, composite ramps may crack if handled improperly whereas aluminum bends.
A final consideration is the ramp surface, which includes a grit surface, rubber or carpet. Grit surfaces provide superior traction, followed by rubber and carpet. Both grit and rubber surfaces require minimal cleaning, while carpeted surfaces tend to require more attention and may retain moisture, so select the style most suited to the activities of you and your pet.
As with learning any new behavior, patience and perseverance will pay off. In the long run, your dog and your back will both appreciate it!