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For the past couple months Buster’s been having some issues with his back legs. We first noticed it when his toenails started scraping the sidewalk when he walked. Then it seemed to be harder for him to jump into the car, and recently he’s had a bit of difficulty navigating the steps into the motorhome.
While it’s hard to be reminded that our sweet boy isn’t a puppy anymore, it’s not unusual for German Shepherds to develop weakness, painfulness, or even neurological issues in their hind ends as they age. It’s something we’ve been watching for as Buster’s gotten older, and with his 11th birthday only 4 months away, we realize that we’re really lucky not to have faced any mobility challenges with him before now.
The good news is that Buster’s not in pain. We saw the veterinarian this week, and his assessment was Buster has some weakness in his back end, but there’s no indication he’s hurting. We already have him scheduled to begin acupuncture treatments, and we’ll be exploring additional options, but in the meantime we’re doing what we can to make life a little easier for him. That includes training him to use a dog ramp to get in and out of the RV.
As soon as we noticed Buster was having problems with his legs, we ordered a collapsable dog ramp. Though he was still navigating the stairs fine most of the time, we wanted to train him to use the ramp before he really needed it. And, we didn’t want him straining a muscle or tearing a ligament trying to do more than his body was able.
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 was sensible for our mobile lifestyle was 8 feet. It 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 steepness, but a longer ramp would be unmanageable. 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 — the perfect thing to provide secure doggy footing.
Lastly, I wanted something that was light and easy to use. The ramp we chose is made of aluminum, so it weighs just 19 pounds, and is easy to set up and take down. It also folds in half, clips closed, and has a carry handle, so storing it when we’re ready to hit the road will be a cinch. 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 it has a weight capacity of 250 pounds, so for those groggy early morning walks, and sleepy-eyed late night strolls, 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 a dog new behaviors, so we started teaching Buster to use his ramp with it flat on the ground. At first he was a little leery, but with some rewards and a lot of repetition, his confidence grew.
We left the ramp where it was easy to walk Buster across it multiple times a day, and it wasn’t long before he was hopping on it himself, and not even looking for a treat when he got to the end.
The next stage was to raise one end of the ramp a bit and let Buster get used to the some incline and decline. A wooden step provided a stable base, and he started off a little uncertain, but after a few days of practice he had the hang of things.
Placing a door mat on the ground at the end of the ramp helped to teach Buster not to jump off halfway across. 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 having time to acclimate to the ramp, moving to RV steps was a breeze for him — 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 hurts, but I’m trying to follow our happy boy’s lead, and not get ahead of myself. For now, we’re just glad to be able to help make his senior years a little easier.