You can definitely teach an older dog new tricks! We just taught Cooper how to use a ramp to get in and out of the car. So I thought I would share why and how we did it, with you guys.
Does my dog need to use a ramp?
We recently got a new car and Cooper, our 6 year old Golden Retriever has become quite hesitant to jump out of the boot. I spoke to my vet to get her opinion and as large breed dogs can be prone to hip and knee problems, arthritis, and stiff joints, we made the decision to try a ramp or some stairs. Her advice was not to force a dog if they really don’t want to jump in and out as it’s not natural for dogs to land on just two feet and it might be their way of telling you that it hurts. The movement of jumping in and out of the car can put a lot of pressure on the joints. She did warn me not to waste my money and just order one as not all dogs like the ramp as they may be scared of it. Cooper has always been a confident outgoing dog, so I really didn’t think we’d have an issue. However, I am so glad I took on her advice. Instead of buying a ramp, she suggested to borrow a ramp and a set of stairs if possible, to test both of them out first and see how he goes.
Finding the right ramp for my dog
So I turned to the lovely world of social media and posted on a group I run on Facebook called Dog Lovers Melbourne!! I asked what others used and to see if I could borrow from someone in surrounding suburbs just to test out before buying. The next day I went and picked up a set of stairs and a ramp and took them home for Cooper to test out. I was shocked. Cooper was literally petrified of the ramp. He didn’t want to go near it. I popped it up to my boot and realised that it was extremely steep plus it didn’t have good enough grip for a 30+ kg dog to go up and down on such a steep angle. Cooper slipped on it and I realised, there was no way this ramp was going to work. I tested the stairs and they were actually too short to reach my boot and left this awkward jump which again Cooper just didn’t know what to do.
So again, I turned to social media but this time to a couple of groups I am a part of that are specific for Golden retrievers to find out what other Goldie members had been using. Solvit Deluxe Aluminium Telescopic pet ramp was the main one people were suggesting. It was longer than the ramp I had tested which would make it less steep and it has an amazing grip on it so much easier for the dog to get up and down without slipping. However, this is not a cheap ramp but I was lucky enough to have a friend who lives around the corner let me borrow hers to test it out with Cooper before buying one…
Teaching my dog to use a ramp
Teaching your dog to use the ramp, stairs or any new piece of equipment should be done slowly and gradually, using short bursts of training, lots of positive reinforcement and some of their favourite treats. Don’t expect it to happen in one go. Do it over a few sessions, over a few days. Some dogs will learn quicker than others, some may get it day one and others may take weeks. If you can tell your dog is losing focus or isn’t getting it, don’t get angry, just end the session and try again later on or the next day, always keep it fun, positive and happy.
Here are the steps I used for Cooper…
Just keep in mind, Cooper is an intelligent, food-obsessed Golden Retriever so he does generally learn new things quite fast.
Day One (at home)
- When I brought the ramp home I put it on the floor flat for Cooper to have a good sniff.
- I popped his favourite treats on the ramp and constantly praised him and rewarded him for going near it.
- When he stepped onto the ramp, the treats came pouring – to really show him that was the behaviour I was looking for. And good things will happen when you step onto the ramp.
- With a handful of treats, I started to use the verbal cue “on the ramp” and slowly lead Cooper onto the ramp by showing him the treats in my hand and giving him one every couple of steps. We did this up and back a few times, again praising him non-stop for happily walking on the ramp flat on the ground.
- I even made him sit on the ramp, lie down on the ramp. I just wanted him to get used to being on it, the sound of his nails on it and associating it with lots of treats and positive reinforcement.
- He did a great job. So we ended our session for the day
Day Two (at home)
- The next day I pulled the ramp out and repeated what we had done the day earlier. I used the verbal cue “on the ramp” and gave him lots of treats for walking on the flat ramp. We did some “sit” and some “Drop” on the ramp before moving to the next level, just as a refresher.
- I then raised the ramp on a tiny step and continued using the verbal cue “on the ramp”. He definitely hesitated this time as the ramp was on the angle. But I lead him using the treats in my hand and he followed. Quite quickly I had him going up and down the ramp whilst on a tiny slant. The kids got on too to show him how it’s done.
- And again, that was the end of our session that day! He did amazing! So I didn’t want to push it.
Day Three (at home)
- Once again I pulled the ramp out and went back to basics. Getting Cooper on the ramp flat using lots of his favourite treats. Then I popped it back up on the small step and again did some practice on that.
- Then I put the ramp up on the car… The big test. It was much steeper than the small step but being such a great ramp, it was very sturdy. I made him sit at the bottom of the ramp. I showed him the yum treats in my hand and I used the cue “on the ramp” – at first, he tried to zig-zag me and jump in the boot rather than using the ramp. So I had to pull him back and try again. I remained calm and positive.
- Once he got it, he got it pretty fast. It must be a different sensation being on the ramp on such a steep angle but once he did it a couple of times, I could see his confidence building.
- I used lots of treats. Lots of practice and praise.
Day four (taking it out on the street)
- The next test for us was getting in the car at home and then getting out with the ramp at the dog park. It is always good to teach your dog new tricks in a quiet environment first with minimal distractions and then build it up to out of the house with distractions.
- Again, Cooper amazed me and did so well. We did it on the lead and he happily used the ramp, with lots of treats and praise when we got to the dog park and when leaving the dog park.
Using a ramp for your dog in the car will make it much easier on their joints as they get older. Don’t force a dog to jump in and out of a car if they really don’t want to, it might be their way of telling you it hurts. I hope these steps help you and your dog. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.