How to support a dog on wheels

Supporting a disabled dog on wheels isn't an easy job. Here's our top tips on how to train a dog to use a wheelchair and how to choose the right one. 
Disabled dog on wheels

There are many reasons a dog may need wheels. Injuries, disabilities, amputations and other special needs can make it harder for dogs to move around. Many owners look to dog wheelchairs to help their pets regain mobility and freedom. A dog with wheels can get some fresh air and exercise and continue to lead a happy and fulfilling life. They can start playing and having fun again and get back to just being themselves.

Caring for and supporting a dog on wheels can be difficult for owners, because dogs cannot easily communicate how they are feeling. Here we look at how to get your dog used to their new wheels and tips to make the transition process as easy as possible.

Choosing a dog wheelchair

The kind of wheelchair you need will depend on your dog’s condition, mobility and size. There are lots of companies who supply wheels for dogs, and your vet should be able to recommend reputable providers. They should offer a range of wheelchairs and take the time to help you understand which is right for your dog.

The wheels should be specially made to fit your dog and allow them to walk and move about at the right height. There are also different types of wheels, depending on the terrain your dog will be travelling on and how long the walks are likely to be.

Finally, dogs with wheels have different options for harnesses and stirrups to support their legs. Some dog wheelchairs come with elastic stirrups so your dog can continue to use their legs if there is still some mobility. This will encourage your pooch to maintain muscle mass and mobility even when using the wheelchair.

disabled dog on wheels

Training a dog to use wheels

Once you’ve got a dog wheelchair, it’s time to get your dog used to using it. Remember that walking with wheels can be a big adjustment for a dog, as the device can be noisy and cumbersome, and it follows them around as they try and move.

Some dogs on wheels get used to it more or less immediately. This is common for dogs that have sustained paralysis or amputation, who have been frustrated by their inability to walk. But other dogs can be scared by the wheels and need more coaxing to get them to try walking in them.

The dog wheels should come with guidance form the manufacturer on how to get them going. But here are some other general pointers to make sure your dog adjusts quickly.

Start in a wide, open space, but ideally not on grass which can be a tricky surface for wheels. If you try the wheels out indoors, they may bump into furniture and get stuck, which can distress the dog.

Assemble the wheelchair first and leave it lying around for the dog to investigate, sniff and get used to its presence. Try getting the dog used to the harness separately by putting it on for a few moments without the wheels, then taking it off again. Make sure all harnesses fit snugly and allow your dog time to adjust to the feeling of the straps. Then try putting your dog on the wheels. Take it slow, keep calm and provide lots of stroking and reassurance. It helps to distract them with treats while the wheelchair is being fitted.

When the dog is settled on the wheels, try and encourage them to start moving. It helps to use treats as a reward – hold them at nose level so the dog doesn’t need to stoop to pick them up. Hold a treat a few inches in front of the dog and if they come to it, hold the next treat a little further away.

Once the dog starts moving, encourage them with plenty of praise. Never rush the process or allow the dog to become distressed. Start your dog on the wheels for small periods of time at first – just 5 to 10 minutes is enough – then allow them to rest. Increase this gradually to help build up more strength.

Tips for dogs with wheels

  • Always supervise a dog on wheels so you can remove the device if they become tired, stressed or want to lie down.
     
  • Associate the process with rewards like treats, especially at the beginning, and the dog should view it as a positive thing. It’s best to start with a hungry dog as they will work harder for the treats.
     
  • Watch out for inclines, steps and things the wheels may get stuck in.
     
  • Make sure the wheels are comfortable and well-fitting, and they they have been adjusted properly to your dog.
     
  • Be realistic about what your dog on wheels will achieve. There are limitations to a dog’s health and mobility even with a wheelchair, especially if they are older, injured or are recovering from serious surgery. Even just moving more easily around the garden is a positive step – don’t expect them to be able to complete long walks instantly.
disabled dog with wheelchair

What if my dog hates the wheelchair?

It’s rare for a dog to reject the wheelchair entirely, but if they don’t settle into using it, it’s best to contact the company who provided the wheelchair to see what changes could be made.