One of the most important behaviors I've taught my dogs is how to use a ramp when getting on and off furniture. It's prevented a number of potential injuries, and has given my elderly dog, Beans, the ability to come and go from the couch as she pleases.
To get a vet's perspective on ramp training, I asked Dianna Shattuck, DVM, Chief of Staff at High Ridge Animal Hospital in Stamford, CT. And she did not disappoint! Dr. Shattuck provided a number of points that any dog owner, regardless of the dog's age or size, should take to heart.
See below for Dr. Shattuck's expertise about keeping your dog injury- and pain-free. And check out my video on ramp training to get started, before your dog gets injured or becomes elderly.
Dr. Shattuck explains:
The most common concern for this sort of jumping would be for neck and back injuries. It’s a very common cause of new neck/back problems, generally in the category of IVDD, intervertebral disc disease. (Click here for an excellent resource.) I tell my clients that a small to medium dog jumping off a bed is the rough orthopedic equivalent of a person jumping off the roof of their car.
The second concern is the risk of ligamentous injury or tear. The classic example in dogs is what we call a ruptured cranial cruciate ligament, the dog equivalent of an ACL tear in people. This may or may not be accompanied by damage to the meniscus. In moderate to severe cases these sorts of injuries are best managed by surgery. Any sort of jumping or twisting motion can contribute to this type of injury.
The third concern would be dogs with osteoarthritis. This may be hereditary (such as hip dysplasia in a German Shepherd or elbow dysplasia in a Labrador), age-related, or post-injury. The incidence reported for all dogs with osteoarthritis in North America is 20%, but obviously the percentage is much higher in our older patient population. Osteoarthritis from any cause can be worsened by any activity that causes increased impact on the affected joints. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198754/)
When a dog has a known back/neck injury or orthopedic injury or disease, our recommendations include the following:
1. Keep the dog fit and slender! Excess weight exacerbates all orthopedic problems.
2. Minimize going up and down stairs, especially rapidly.
3. Train for ramp use; there should be NO jumping from beds, couches, chairs, and decks.
4. Active families should plan sensibly for what their dog can handle. Dogs are often good-natured optimists by nature; the question, “Want to go for a long hike up and down hills and over rocky terrain?” will be answered, “Yes please!” but the dog may pay for this the next day with sore muscles at the least, or a significant worsening of neck/back/joint disease in the worst case.
5. Slow, steady walking is the best exercise for older dogs or dogs with previous injuries, as well as dogs who are predisposed by breed to IVDD (The poster child for this of course is the Dachshund, but any chondrodystrophic breed is at increased risk. Examples include Shih Tzus, Pekingese, Lhasa Apsos, Corgis, and French Bulldogs.) The dog should walk at a pace that allows them to place each foot on the ground. If dogs are limping or sore after a walk, walks should be shortened.
6. Dog lifting harnesses are underutilized! They provide stability to help dogs keep their back level while getting where they need to go. Also, importantly, they help save the backs of their human helpers. (My doctor told me that lifting/moving dogs is a very common way for humans to get back injuries!) The Help ‘em up Harness (www.helpemup.com) is the OG, but there are also many knockoffs now.
Thank you to Dr. Shattuck for this thorough explanation of preventing injuries!
Kate is a certified dog behavior consultant, certified dog trainer, certified Fear Free professional, certified dog parkour instructor, and award-winning author.
The views expressed on this website belong to Kate Naito and may not reflect the views of the agencies with which she trains.