Our friends at CAM recently advised of a study showing that as much as 6 times your dog’s body weight could be going through their forelimbs when jumping out of a car. That is a lot of strain and impact to be put through normal structures, let alone if your dog has vulnerable joints or soft tissues. Jumping in can also present a real challenge as your dog needs to be strong and coordinated enough for this movement – if they are weak or uncomfortable, this can be a very difficult, scary movement for them, and they are also more likely to fall and injure themselves further. So what are the alternatives?
If you have a small dog and you are capable of lifting them in and out of the car safely then excellent – job done! However, if you have a larger dog or are not able to lift them safely, we would recommend using a ramp, probably in combination with a harness that will allow you to support your dog while they navigate the incline and decline. When choosing a ramp, the two key factors to consider are angle and traction. The angle of the ramp needs to be not too steep – so for bigger, 4×4 style cars, a longer ramp may be needed to allow a shallow enough incline. The surface of the ramp also needs to give your dog enough traction. If the ramp surface is a bit slippery, sticking some rubber matting down can help improve this.
Many dogs who have jumped into the car for years (and maybe even been rewarded for doing so) will not understand the concept of a ramp, so they also need to be trained to use it correctly and safely. They also need to be given time to familiarise themselves with the ramp, before being asked the relatively advanced task of using it at an angle against a car boot. Our approach here (as with all tasks we ask of our dogs) is to break the challenge down into small stages, ensuring the dog is comfortable with each step before moving onto the next one. Generally, if dogs don’t do what we ask, it is because they don’t feel capable or are anxious, not because they are being deliberately obtuse!
For introducing a ramp, we would recommend the following steps:
- Place the ramp flat on the ground at home or in the garden and let your dog sniff and investigate it. Praise and reward them when they approach it and sniff. Place treats on the ramp for them to snaffle up.
- Once they are comfortable around the ramp, use treats to lure your dog to place their paws on it and gradually build up to them walking along the ramp, whilst it is still lying flat on the floor. Do this with them in a harness and lead as well and practice walking up and down it.
- Then try exactly the same thing, but with the ramp on a low incline, such as raised on a step. Supporting your dog on the harness, encourage them to walk up the ramp and praise and treat them for doing so. Ensure you practice the decline too!
- Slowly increase the angle of the ramp, remembering to always praise your dog, support them with the harness and only increase the angle of the incline when they are fully confident.
- Finally, place the ramp against the car. Your dog may still be conditioned to jump into the car, so ensure the ramp is ready and you have your treats, supportive harness and lure so that you can encourage them up the ramp instead. Sometimes it can be helpful to have someone standing on the other side of the ramp, to direct them up it safely. Use lots of praise and reward here – and if your dog still seems reluctant, you may have to go back a step to a shallower incline before trying again.
Investing the time to introduce a car ramp successfully will really pay dividends for you and your dog when they can finally use it safely and comfortably and will avoid any nasty injuries (for either of you!) if they continue to try to jump, or you try to lift them unsafely. It will also mean you can keep taking your dog out on adventures with you for much longer!
If you would like further advice or support with this issue or anything else, do get in touch.