As soon as Buster started experiencing weakness in his hind legs, we knew it was time to invest in a dog ramp. At 80 pounds, carrying him was not an option. And watching him struggle up the steep steps of our motorhome was painful for us all.
It was also important that we move quickly. First, because we didn’t want him to fall and injure himself, or developing a fear of the steps. And second, because it was going to take some time to train him to use the ramp.
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It’s not unusual for German Shepherds to develop weakness, painfulness, or even neurological issues in their hind legs as they age. And as Buster’s birthdays have ticked by, it’s something we’ve watched for. He’ll be turning 11 soon, and we’re lucky not to have faced any mobility challenges with him before now.
We first noticed a problem when the toenails on his back paws occasionally scraped when he walked. Then he seemed to be hesitating a bit before jumping into the car. Recently he’s started having trouble climbing the steps into the motorhome.
The good news is that Buster’s not in pain. We saw the veterinarian this week, and while Buster has some weakness in his back end, but there’s no indication he’s hurting. We’ve scheduled acupuncture treatments for him, and we’ll be exploring other remedies. But in the meantime we’re doing what we can to make life a little easier for him. And that includes training him to use a dog ramp to get in and out of the RV.
Though Buster was still navigating the motorhome stairs alright most of the time, we didn’t wait to order a collapsable dog ramp. He could strain a muscle or tear a ligament trying to do more than his body was able. And he’s never been the most graceful dog – losing his balance on the steps could easily have ended in a fall. Plus, we needed time to train him to use the ramp before he really needed it.
Choosing the dog ramp was fairly easy. We have two steps outside the motorhome and three inside, so we wanted a ramp long enough to avoid making the climb too steep. The longest ramp we could find that could be packed and stowed for travel was 8 feet.
At that length, the ramp allows us to take three steps out of the equation, but still requires Buster to manage two steps on his own. If we position the ramp any higher, Buster’s uncomfortable with the incline, but a longer ramp would be unmanageable in the Winnebago. This feel like a good compromise.
The second thing we were looking for was a good, non-skid surface for Buster to walk on. This ramp is covered in what feels like course sandpaper – perfect for providing secure doggy footing.
Lastly, I needed a dog ramp that was light and easy to use. This ramp is made of aluminum, so it weighs just 19 pounds and is a cinch to set up and take down. It folds in half, clips closed, and has a carry handle, so storing it when we’re ready to hit the road isn’t a problem either.
The other nice thing is that, at 15 inches wide, there’s just enough space for us to walk down the steps alongside the ramp when it’s set up. But, with a weight capacity of 250 pounds, the ramp will hold Buster and me at the same time.
Every dog is different, and we had no idea how Buster would react to his new ramp. When it arrived we set it up, grabbed the treats, and encouraged him to give it a try. He was having none of it! He put his front paws on the ramp, but wouldn’t go any further. It quickly became clear this was going to require a different approach.
Baby steps often work best in training new behaviors, so we started teaching Buster to use the ramp with it lying flat on the ground. At first he was leery, but with some rewards and a lot of praise, his confidence grew.
We left the ramp where Buster could walk across it multiple times a day. It wasn’t long before it became part of his normal routine.
The next stage was to raise one end of the ramp a bit and get Buster used to some incline and decline. A wooden step provided a stable base, and again he started out nervously. But after a few days of practice he had the hang of things.
Placing a door mat at the end of the ramp helped Buster learn not to jump off before he got to the end. If his paws didn’t hit the mat, there was no treat for that attempt!
Buster’s always picked things up pretty quickly, and it wasn’t long before it was time to raise the bar again. After he’d had time to acclimate to the ramp, moving to RV steps was a breeze. He took one trip on the lowest step, one on the second step, and then was ready to climb the ramp in it’s highest position.
Facing the fact that Buster’s getting older isn’t easy. But we’re following our happy boy’s lead and not getting ahead of ourselves. For now, we’re just glad to be able to help make his senior years a little easier.
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