Teach Your Dog to Wear a Lifting Harness
Published on October 16, 2012
Mobility slings and lifting harnesses can be used to help pets with physical challenges stay active, whether it’s assisting a dog to go outside or helping him maneuver up the stairs. Before using a harness or sling, it’s essential to follow your veterinarian’s recommendation on any procedures, medication or other physical therapy which could benefit your dog and ease his level of discomfort. Only use a sling or towel for mobility while under the direction of your veterinarian.
Choosing a Sling
If your veterinarian recommends a sling, it’s important to ask what type of lifting harness would be best for your pooch. There are a variety of options: Some harnesses lift near the dog’s chest to alleviate pressure on the front end, while others lift in the middle of the dog’s belly or at the rear end of the dog. Another option is a harness that lifts both the front and rear to give the dog full-body assistance. Whatever harness you choose, it is important your dog be comfortable with the fit. Look for a harness with padding in areas that can chafe, such as between the legs, and at the pressure points where the harness will be lifting.
Towels can temporarily serve as improvised slings for less extensive injuries or for short-term assistance. To create a temporary sling, roll up a soft towel a few times lengthwise and fit it underneath the dog’s belly, being careful to avoid sensitive areas underneath, especially for male dogs. Attach a leash to your dog's collar, and use it to lead him; use your other hand to grasp the towel and gently lift the dog up. A towel is not nearly as comfortable for a dog as a harness, however, and doesn’t fit as securely, meaning that your dog may slide or fall out. A mobility harness is the method of choice for long-term assistance.
Get Your Pooch Comfortable in His Harness
When you fit the harness, it’s helpful to have someone sit facing your dog's head, to speak reassuringly and deliver treats or petting while you fit the dog in the harness. Giving your dog tasty treats during the fitting will help him to have a positive association with the harness and may help him relax while wearing the equipment. Be sure the harness fits snugly around your dog while still providing enough room to allow natural movement.
Start out using very minimal upward pressure to get your dog comfortable with the sensation of his front or rear end being lifted. With the assistance of another person, give a treat immediately after each small upward lift. As long as your dog remains calm, you can gradually lift more weight and have him take a few steps, to get him comfortable with the sensation of being assisted while walking. It’s helpful to have a leash on the front end of your dog so that you can physically direct or stop him as needed. Two people may be needed for helping dogs with mobility problems; one person can lead the dog while the other does the lifting.
Certain mobility harnesses that lift both the front and rear can be used to physically lift the dog off the ground with the help of either two handles front and back or a special strap which looks like the strap on a duffel bag; be sure to ask your veterinarian which one is right for your pet. You can help your dog ease into the sensation of being lifted by similarly using very little upward pressure to lift him an inch or two off the ground; immediately treat after. As he gets comfortable with this, work up to lifting him completely off the ground; this will enable you to get him into cars or up the stairs when other mobility devices, like ramps, are not available. Keep in mind that you should lift with your legs, not your back. For smaller dogs, your veterinarian may recommend you carry your dog in your arms, supporting him from underneath, without using a sling when you go up and down the stairs. Larger dogs may need the help of a harness.
Stairs can be tricky for a dog using a sling. Ideally, dogs with mobility issues should avoid stairs, if at all possible; the climb can be particularly painful for them, and the combination of stairs and a harness creates a potentially hazardous situation for both the dog and the human who is wrangling the harness. However, stairs are an unavoidable part of life for urban dwellers, and dogs with injuries need a safe way to navigate them.
Depending on your dog's condition, a front and back type of harness may be best both for climbing and descending stairs, as both ends of the dog can be supported as needed. Align yourself with your dog's back or front end (wherever he needs the most help), or position yourself right at your dog’s middle to equally support his front and back ends. Having another person lead your dog helps to keep him turned in the right direction as you move. Practice first on smaller flights of stairs, such as those on a front porch or garage steps before venturing to longer flights. Be sure to reward your dog for calmly navigating the steps when you reach either the top or bottom.