Many people assume that once they bring home the appropriate wheelchair for their dog, their dog will quickly understand the value of this new device to help them get around and will take to it readily. Some dogs do quickly take to the dog wheelchair, but most require some time to adjust to this new contraption.
Most dogs will get used to using a wheelchair in time, although this isn’t true of all dogs. Here’s what you need to know to help you anticipate how readily your dog will take to a wheelchair and to teach your dog how to accept a wheelchair.
Will Your Dog Accept a Dog Wheelchair?
Every dog is different, and you are unlikely to be able to predict with perfect confidence whether or not your dog will take to being trained with a wheelchair. However, by taking a few factors into account, you can set yourself up for success in deciding whether a wheelchair is a good purchase for your dog.
After all, you don’t want to have to spend a lot of money buying an expensive customized wheelchair for your dog only to find out that they are unwilling to use it. Of course, you can always try a less expensive wheelchair or a used wheelchair before you commit to an expensive version, but such wheelchairs may not be an accurate indication of how readily your dog takes to a wheelchair as opposed to a wheelchair that has been designed specifically for their needs.
Here is what may affect whether your dog takes to the chair or not:
As a rule, younger dogs may be more willing to take to a wheelchair than older dogs. Dogs that were born disabled or disabled early in puppyhood who are fitted with a wheelchair soon after may take to a wheelchair nearly as readily as if it were the dog’s own legs.
There are certainly exceptions to this rule. More timid puppies may have a harder time accepting the chair. In general, the younger the dog, the more likely they are to accept wheelchair training readily.
More confident dogs are more likely to take to this strange new human contraption without concern. If your dog has never had a problem with you dressing them up in silly costumes, wearing harnesses, and otherwise tolerating various contraptions and decorations, they are more likely to also accept wheelchair training.
Confidence can often overrule age. A very outgoing, confident dog may readily accept a wheelchair even if they are older, whereas a shy puppy may have a difficult time accepting a wheelchair.
Strong in Some Areas
Naturally, any dog that needs a wheelchair is a dog that is experiencing weakness in some parts of the body. However, some dogs may have a lot of strength in some parts even while having complete paralysis in others.
Dogs that have very strong front limbs are much more likely to be able to pull a wheelchair despite severe hind paralysis. The same is true for dogs with front limb paralysis.
There are carts that provide whole body support, but in general, these carts may be more challenging to train your dog to use, particularly if your dog has severe weakness in the whole body. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. It’s just worth keeping in mind when you are trying to determine how easily your dog will take to training.
How to Train Your Dog to Use a Wheelchair
Throughout the process of training your dog to accept a wheelchair, be sure that you go slowly, show patience, and do not push your dog too hard. Not every dog will learn to accept the wheelchair, so it is important not to set your expectations too high. That said, here are a few things that you can do to help your dog learn to love their wheelchair.
Make them develop positive feelings towards their wheelchair
The first time your dog sees their wheelchair, they will probably think it looks and smells very strange. To build positive emotions around that strangeness, associate the wheelchair with good things from the very first time your dog sees it.
As soon as you bring the wheelchair out of the box and packaging, give your dog rewards for sniffing and looking at it as if you were presenting them with a great present. Make a lot of hype and excitement around it, but do not force your dog to go close to it or interact with it in any way.
The goal is simply to associate the wheelchair with good things. Any time your dog goes near the wheelchair, associate the wheelchair with food, affection, and happiness. Once your dog is dancing with joy every time they see the chair, you are ready to progress to the next step in training.
Make it clear why it helps them
Make it very clear why using a wheelchair will be advantageous to your dog. If your dog doesn’t yet need a wheelchair all of the time or if your disabled dog can pull themselves around alright without a wheelchair, it may be a bit harder for you to show them that the wheelchair is helpful at first. After all, your dog would probably rather go under their own legs as they have before.
To help your dog realize why the wheelchair will be beneficial to them, don’t offer it until your dog needs it. Carry it with you on a walk and offer it when your dog begins to get tired. It isn’t necessary to force your dog into the chair, just give them lots of rewards while you strap it on and give them the opportunity to see how much it relieves pressure and makes it easier for them to walk.
If they look at you anxiously or seem uncomfortable about moving, ask them, “Want it off?” or some other kind of command word or phrase and then remove it. This will help you know when your dog is asking to have their wheelchair off now and down the road as well.
Perhaps the single most common problem that people have when introducing their dog to a wheelchair is letting them go too far, too fast, too soon, and not staying actively involved enough. For some dogs, it only takes one or two bad experiences in the wheelchair to contradict all the positivity training you’ve done and cause them to have negative feelings about the wheelchair overall.
Some dogs may even generalize to other things in the environment that were happening when they tipped their chair over. Tipping over a wheelchair can be a very frightening experience. It’s bound to happen once or twice, especially if your dog is energetic, but the more on top of it you can be and the faster you right your dog, the less traumatic the experience will be and the more quickly your dog will learn to trust you to help them in situations like this even if it is scary.
Therefore, keep your dog on a leash and make sure they stay within a fairly close distance to you as they learn to use their chair. Be particularly cautious when your dog is going over bumps or around sharp turns.
Your dog will likely be accustomed to much more agility or a much slower speed and may not be able to predict how the wheelchair will respond to turns. Doorways can also cause problems, especially for wheelchairs with outward facing wheels. Make sure that you are looking for any potential issues that could come up so that you can protect your dog from any problems.
Check your dog and the chair frequently
Even the best wheelchairs shift and loosen as your dog wears them. The more active your dog is, the more likely it is that the chair will shift when they are going over bumps and rough terrain. Some wearing away of fur and the occasional sore is normal, especially for active dogs, but it is very important to treat any sores quickly so that they do not get worse and develop into infections.
It is especially important to look for sores and rub marks on the legs where paralysis may be and where dogs may be less likely to feel the problem.
Enjoy the Benefits of a Wheelchair for Your Dog
If you’ve been watching your dog struggle to move and breaking your back helping them walk with a sling, the advantages of a wheelchair will likely be clear to you immediately. It may take your dog some time to learn to use the wheelchair, but most people consider it well worth the effort.
Be patient and give your dog time to adjust while setting them up for positive experiences with their wheelchair, and you are very likely to find that your dog is happy to use their wheelchair and even begging you to put it on in no time.