Well, it’s snowing on May 21 here in northern Colorado… and I’m not sure if I should say snowing again, or snowing still… At this point we have canceled our Memorial Day weekend camping plans because we've had our fill of camping in the cold and rain. Cheers to Plan B backyard BBQs instead!
Today I want to talk about rig assistance options for large breed dogs who are lame or elderly. Dogs are great companions on trail, but if they have physical limitations it can be difficult for them to jump up/down from a lifted trail rig, and if you’ve got a large dog then you might not want, or be able, to lift him into your vehicle all the time. Before I get into product recommendations, here’s some background about why this is important to me and how I’ve learned what I know about getting a big dog in/out of my Jeep safely.
During the summer of 2018 we brought home a German Shepherd puppy who, unbeknownst to us, had a genetic disease called Elbow Dysplasia. By three months of age our puppy was experiencing severe lameness and extreme pain and could hardly walk for periods at a time; after a variety of tests he was diagnosed with Bilateral Elbow Dysplasia in both front legs. There are different manifestations of this disease; in our pup’s case, his elbow joints did not form as one bone but had bone chips in the elbow joints which needed to be removed to alleviate the pain and lameness. So, he had bilateral elbow surgery at six months of age and that’s where the rig accommodation needs started, because he then had an eight-week recovery period during which he couldn't run, jump, play, or climb (yeah, it was a tough time – and if you have a dog with elbow dysplasia email me and we can trade tips).
Today our pup is a healthy and active 11-month-old dog. I’m so glad we opted for the surgery because his episodes of lameness are virtually nonexistent now. But, his elbows will be a life-long challenge and he will eventually have arthritis issues, so the reality is that he’ll need help in/out of our trail rigs in the future just like he did post-op.
During our pup’s recovery period – when he was from 6 months to 8 months of age – he grew from about 60 pounds to about 75 pounds. My biggest hurdle initially, because I knew he’d grow to be a large size dog, was how to get him in and out of a lifted Jeep for appointments and such. Mr. Muscles – I mean, my husband – was not around for every vet appointment, and I couldn’t lift 70+ squirming pounds into my Jeep by myself. We’re a two lifted -Jeep family so there were no other vehicle options. Plus, both our Jeeps have the Mac’s Storage Box in the back cargo area which limits usable area, so there were some things I had to consider.
1. Many of the typical vehicle ramps are shorter in length (which makes them more portable), and that results in a much steeper incline on a lifted vehicle (which is less desirable for the dog).
2. Many of the vehicle ramps I considered were designed to work in the back cargo area by sitting on the back bumper. As our cargo areas are full that wouldn’t work for us.
3. Some of the vehicle ramps that were longer in length and provided a decent incline were then too big to store easily in the vehicle after use.
4. In addition to a ramp I needed something to guide our dog up/down the ramp, out of the vehicle without a ramp, and assist him up/down any stairs.
The ramp I ended up choosing, which I’ve used often and LOVE, is the Rage Powersports DR-06 Folding Dog Ramp. I give complete credit to E for this recommendation – she’s got a lifted Jeep and a very large dog and she uses this ramp also. I like this ramp for these reasons:
- The aluminum construction is sturdy but lightweight. At 12 pounds, this ramp is easily lifted in/out of a vehicle for use.
- The grit-coated surface provides excellent traction for dogs.
- The 72 inch ramp length is enough to provide a decent incline on a lifted rig, but it’s not too much for storage purposes.
- My favorite part is the ‘lip’ on the end of the ramp that is designed to sit on a rear bumper – however, this actually sits perfectly on my slider so I can get my dog in/out of the back seat directly.
- The ramp folds in half and is secured by a side strap plus alligator clip, and has a carry handle to assist transport. Folded in half this ramp easily stores on the floor in front of my back seat.
- There are cheaper ramps, but this one is well made and I feel it will last for years – I’ll need it again in a few years for our Shepherd, and probably also for our mixed breed dog. And with how much I’ve already used it, it’s already paid for itself.
- Train early if possible. When our pup was six months old and just prior to his surgery I trained him on the ramp. Practicing before he was in post-surgical pain and recovering was easier than trying out something new when he was all doped up on meds.
- If you can, begin with the ramp in your house set on some stairs. Full credit to E again for this trick! The dog goes up and down the stairs anyway, now you’re just having him use the ramp instead. Also, using high-value treats helps (not regular treats, but maybe hotdog, real bacon, etc.)
- If you don’t have stairs in your house that will work, set the ramp on the floor and have your dog walk on it, with treats. The dog needs to realize the ramp is okay before you try it with the vehicle.
- Once your dog realizes that the ramp is not a threat (especially if you’ve set it on stairs first and there’s no way they can fall off), try it on your vehicle. I found that a good handle harness (see below) really helped guide our dog up and down, and high-value treats are a must. This step just takes time and repetition; some dogs will learn faster than others but be patient and practice frequently for brief periods at a time.
Another must-have is a good handle harness. This not only helps guide the dog up/down a vehicle ramp, but it also allows you to assist the dog out of a lifted vehicle (if they shouldn’t place full weight on their front legs), or up/down stairs. Here’s what I purchased, and why:
- Sturdy construction, with a simple design. I love the minimalist design of this harness and the fact that it supports a dog’s front end without a lot of bulk and weight and extra clips.
- The quick clips on this are amazing – just slip them through and pull tight – see the photos for a better idea. These clips are so low profile that they don’t rub or chafe, yet they’re super sturdy.
- Straps are adjustable and fit our growing pup through 15 pounds of weight gain.
- The handle has good placement on the harness. Some of the harnesses I considered had a handle at the very front, or near the back, and I needed one where the front weight of the dog was balanced. This harness delivered.
- There are two leash attachments – one on the back, and one “no-pull” on the front. Having both of these options was good for vet visits and rehab sessions.
- If your dog has hip or back leg issues as well, then you might consider a longer length harness or one with a hind end attachment. Here’s a search of various products.
One more tip:
- If you have a JKU, unhook the back door strap. This allows the door to open all the way and provides extra space for your dog to get onto the back seat from the ramp. If you have a two-door Jeep, I’m sorry but you’re outta luck, and you should’ve bought a four-door (just kiddinggggggg!).
Just like people, sometimes our four-legged friends need a little extra help getting in and out of a big trail rig. I don’t think we should leave our dogs behind all the time just because they are getting older, or have extra physical needs. After all, fresh air is good medicine no matter your species!
Thanks for reading today, and Happy Trails!
by Dawn Gallegos
Dawn Gallegos is the founding editor of the Chicks On The Rocks blog. When she's not working to fund her Jeep habit she's thinking up new ways to inspire others to explore the great outdoors!