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Dog joint health – how stairs can help

Posted by: Tim Berrisford  Date: 12/06/2014   Category: Owners Guides

The ageing process can be difficult for a dog. A tennis ball or a stick are used to signal fun and excitement, but with senior dogs, a game of catch can be the toughest activity in the world. Aching joints, torn anterior cruciate ligaments, hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis are all common problems in dogs reaching their older years and, as a result, these conditions may prevent your pet from achieving – what used to be – simple goals like climbing the stairs or jumping into the boot of a car.

It’s up to us, as owners, to ensure our older dogs are able to overcome their condition and continue to enjoy life’s little luxuries; a comfy sofa, a trip to the seaside in the car and, best of all, our laps!

Stairway to sofa heaven

If your dog is having joint trouble, it might be worth considering a set of specialised dog stairs to help your canine get to places he or she can no longer otherwise reach. For instance that soft, warm area on the settee might have become a step too far but a set of dog stairs is a great alternative to help your pet reach their favourite places.

Depending on type of stairs acquired, the product can be folded flat for convenient storage or transport, making them perfect for helping your dog enter and exit your car when on an adventure. Some models include safety side rails to ensure your pet can climb up and down with confidence.

It is perfectly normal for your dog to hesitate when first introduced to the stairs. Work is required to build their confidence and once your pet shows signs of comfort, the stairs will become just as familiar as a leash, dog bowl or dog bed. Owners should also consider the size of the stairs they are purchasing – a set of stairs aimed at a Chiahuahua isn’t going to cut it for a German Shepherd.

So, how do owners turn those initial moments of hesitation and fear into confidence?

Training your dog to use stairs

Dogs are unpredictable. Despite their eagerness for fun activities like walks and playing catch, we can’t force them to do anything they aren’t ready to do in their own time. Patience and understanding are required when broaching unfamiliar territo ry.

To encourage your dog to use stairs, especially a dog that suffers from joint pain, the first thing you should do is train your dog to simply approach the stairs. Letting your pet take things at their own pace is the first step (no pun intended) in enabling your dog to overcome their fear; making them aware of the stairs and their use is critical in achieving this goal. Introduce the stairs in certain situations – close to their favourite spot on the sofa or at the back of the car leading to the boot – and let your dog explore of his/her own accord, letting them gradually become familiar the product.

Once your pet is aware of the stairs, it’s worth practising going up one step then turning and going back down the step.Partnership for Animal Welfare advises repeat ing this move several times while praising your dog for any progress made with the target. While it may seem silly at first, it might be worth showing your dog how to do this in person. Once achieved, you can move up to the second step, venturing up and turning back again.

Each time your pet achieves a goal, you should lavish him or her with praise and positive reinforcement. Placing treats on the steps also incentivise your dog to move up and down them, familiarising themselves with the product.

Once comfortable with the steps, one option you can employ is to hold a treat in your hand and lead him/her up the stairs. When your dog reaches the top, turn him/her around and return to the base, rewarding your dog for completing the exercise. Eventually, you should be able to wean your dog off the treats by leading him/her with an empty hand and offering rewards in other ways – perhaps a treat when one full ascension and descension is complete. These exercises can be adapted for enterin g and exiting vehicles, reaching chairs and climbing staircases, ensuring your dog becomes comfortable using the stairs in several situations.

Once joints start aching and medical conditions start getting the better of our pets, it can be distressing for both dog and owner. However with helpful products, like dog stairs and ramps, along with training exercises to overcome anxiety and fear, we can help a senior pooch continue to enjoy all the comforts and activities they did in their youth.