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Pet World: Training your large breed dog to use a ramp

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

My ten-year-old, 160-pound Malamute will not get in the car anymore. I bought a ramp and put her favorite treat the top of it, but she won't go up it. She's on Gabapentin for hip pain.

My vet has come here for home visits, but she always needs me to help hold her down and I can't do that anymore due to my health. She's intimidating because of her size. One vet that came to see her was afraid of her, so I didn't have her back again. I wish I could find a vet that wasn't afraid of her and could come to the house. Any suggestions?

–Rita, Philadelphia

Dear Rita,

I have several suggestions, but first I want to address your veterinarian’s reactions to your big dog. Size shouldn’t matter. Vets treat big dogs all the time. If your dog is growling or making them feel unsafe, then they would simply muzzle her during the exam. So, I am assuming the difficulty may be that these vets are coming to your home without an assistant, and since you can’t hold the dog anymore, they’re unable to treat the dog without this help.


So, my first suggestion is to call veterinarians who make house calls and make sure they bring a vet tech with them. My second suggestion is to train your dog to tolerate a basket muzzle. Put the muzzle on her and use a clicker or reward word like “bingo” to acknowledge her tolerance, then give her a treat. Start at just one minute of training a few times a day and then build up to 15 minutes, once or twice a day until you are sure she is comfortable with it.

Third, work on ramp training. Put the ramp flat on your living room floor. Get a clicker (or use a reward word like “bingo”) and click and treat every time your dog walks around, looks at, sniffs, or touches the ramp with nose or paw. Next, lure her onto the ramp by holding a treat at the beginning of it. Click and treat for “one paw” on the ramp, then “two paws,” and so on. What you want is for her to be comfortable stepping on and walking across the ramp.

Once your dog is comfortable with the flat ramp, move the ramp to her dog bed so there is a slight lift, and repeat the training process. Once she is comfortable with that, move it to a couch or low bed, and repeat the training process.

Eventually, take the ramp out to the car. The back of an SUV is too high and can cause the ramp to be too steep for most dogs to feel steady on. Instead, place the ramp at floor level with one of the backseat doors. It’s lower and will give her a more secure, and less sloped way to step into the backseat of the vehicle. Repeat the training process. Click and treat for any and all contact with the ramp. At some point, she will be comfortable enough to walk up the ramp. You also can try collapsible stairs if you think she would like that better. This can take time though, so be patient. Until then, find a house call veterinarian who can arrive with a helper.


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