Teaching your dog to walk beside a wheelchair or mobility scooter – Part One.
It has long been proven that having a pet can have a very positive effect on a person’s mental and emotional health and having a disability should not discount anyone from having a rewarding relationship with a pet of their choice.
It might be that some adjustments need to be made, but with the right approach this should not stop a person’s condition from missing out on the wonderful experience that having a dog, or other pet, brings.
Taking your dog for daily walks is of course probably top of any dog owners list and while this may take a little more time to get organised, it should by no means discourage people with disabilities from owning a dog (or dogs!).
So, how should you go about teaching your dog to walk nicely and safely alongside your wheelchair or scooter?
In the first of two articles on this subject, Holidays4Dogs provides some hints and tips to get you started, but you can also get in touch with Dog A.I.D (Assistance in Disability) – a charity with volunteer professional trainers who can help people train their own pet dog to provide basic assistance tasks around the home; details here – https://dogaid.org.uk/
Our next article will provide some information on what sort of equipment you might like to think about when walking your dog from a wheelchair or scooter.
To teach your dog to walk nicely alongside a wheelchair you need to begin very slowly; first getting your dog to become aware of the wheelchair, then next building up the speed.
Clicker training is the ideal method to teach a dog to walk safely next to a wheelchair or scooter. You can read about how to get started with clicker training in our other Holidays4Dogs articles.
Begin working with your dog at home or in the garden with him attached to a lead about 4 feet long. Click and treat for calm behaviour around the wheelchair but also, encourage him to stay on one side or the other and click and treat for this too.
If your dog is inclined to walk too close to the wheels of the chair or scooter you could try target stick training; but he will need to understand this principle before you start working with the scooter. Use a stick, (a garden cane will do ) cut to about 2 – 3 feet long and place a ping pong ball on the end (or wrap some cloth around it to form a pad). Encourage your dog to use his nose to touch the end of the stick in order to get a click and a treat. Once he understands this, move the stick forward so he has to follow it in order to touch it; click and treat. By doing this you are teaching your dog to follow the stick and you are now in a position to use the stick as a guide for how far away from the wheels he needs to be. Don’t worry; you won’t need to use this permanently! You can phase out the use of the stick fairly quickly.
Discourage your dog from surging ahead, or swopping sides. Once he’s got the hang of this in the house or garden, move on top a distraction free area where you can move along in a straight line and on the flat. Very gradually build up the speed, all the time clicking and treating for walking nicely. Rather than feed your dog from your hand, (which will encourage him to come very close to the scooter ), try and drop treats on the ground just in front of him. The more you practice, the better your dog will become at walking calmly alongside you.
Not all dogs may be suitable to learn how to walk well beside a scooter; puppies for instance may be far too excitable and large, boisterous dogs may be too much of a handful. Dogs need to be relatively calm, friendly individuals when interacting with other dogs and people. Nervous, or reactive dogs, may present a much greater challenge.
As a wheelchair or mobility scooter user, there should be no reason at all why you cannot walk your dog just as effectively as an able bodied person and there are a few disabled people who actually do dog walking for a living; so there should be no reason not to get and about with your dog and enjoy the great outdoors.