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  • Tiffany Downing, RVT

The Wheel Deal Part 2: You Got the Cart; Now What?

Preparing a dog for their first time in their rear wheel cart

Congratulations on ordering your pet’s new, custom-built cart! There’s some pretty important details you’ll need to familiarize yourself with in order for your dog to get years of safe and comfortable use out of their cart. Most importantly, this is not a process that can be rushed! Jumping ahead too quickly can cause serious injury to your dog or make them too afraid of their cart to continue using it.

Preparing Your Dog & Your Home

dog in underwater treadmill

Ideally, dogs who will be needing a cart will have Physical Rehabilitation Therapy beforehand to prepare their body for the physical demands of cart use. This is not a passive device like a human wheelchair. A human can pause and just sit and rest when they get tired. Your dog cannot and is stuck in a standing position as long as they are in their cart. Building up their strength and stamina before cart use can help them adjust to this new activity more quickly and ultimately set them up for better success long term. Dogs that are unable to participate in Physical Rehabilitation Therapy before getting their cart can still do well, but they will need much smaller increments of time and distance as they become accustomed to exercising in their cart.

In addition, you may want to prepare your home for your dog’s new cart. Obstacles like furniture, doorways, and even small bumps on the floor are likely to be challenging for your dog to navigate at first. As they are learning to use their cart, hitting obstacles that cause sudden stops can be scary and obstacles that cause them to feel trapped can be frustrating. Dogs are emotional creatures so creating a positive environment for them to learn in is a huge contributing factor for your dog’s success. Flat open areas, free of furniture and tight spaces, are the perfect environment for practicing in the cart. Hard, smooth floors like tile, laminate, or concrete are the easiest to roll on with textured flooring like carpet being more difficult especially as your dog is still adjusting to their new device.

It may also be helpful to be able to temporarily put other pets away while they’re practicing in their cart, so having a safe space for other pets is optimal. Without a careful introduction, some animals can view the cart as something terrifying or dangerous attached to their housemate and may act aggressively towards your wheeled pet out of fear.

Good Vibes Only!

As mentioned above, dogs are emotional creatures and positive reinforcement is the most effective training tool. We’re working together to train your dog to properly use their cart. We are asking them to be strapped into a moving, metal contraption that is going to “chase” them everywhere they go; some calm confidence is definitely needed here!

golden retriever in a cart walking to get a tennis ball

To assist with this first introduction (and to make any remaining adjustments), we will have you schedule one last Cart Fitting appointment at CROC at no charge. During this appointment, we will introduce your pet to their new cart in a calm and positive environment. We teach them that the cart is not scary, what it’s like to get in/out, and how to make it move with them. We let them make their first, sometimes awkward, steps in the clinic where we can help them learn how to maneuver it where they want to go and what it’s like when they inevitably hit an obstacle. Some dogs are chomping at the bit to run right from the get-go and couldn’t care less about any speed bumps. Others are more reserved and need a lot of encouragement to take even a few steps. The shy pups can quickly shut down out of anxiety and refuse to walk any further, especially if they hit an obstacle. By having them go through this initial experience at CROC, we can ensure that their first time in their wheels is a positive experience, making your first time using the cart at home a smoother, easier process.

While you might feel excited or even anxious about your dog’s first few times in the cart, you must focus on the task at hand. If you are anxious about the cart, your dog will be too! You want to start the training session in a calm, but encouraging energy so that your dog feels relaxed and confident. Even just having the cart nearby for them to inspect and do normal daily activities next to can help desensitize your pet and any housemates, so they feel that it is a safe thing to have near.

When you’re ready to get started, be sure you have any and all tools you might need close at hand. You will want to have your dog harnessed and leash and you may want a bag of treats to encourage them with. Make sure you read the instructions included with your dog’s cart and are familiar with how to load/unload your dog into the cart so you can make your dog’s experience smooth and fear-free. Your confidence truly rubs off on them! Even if they show some initial signs of being nervous or fearful, it’s super important that you reassure them and calmly continue. You don’t want to panic or become frustrated. Move too quickly and your dog may become scared. Move too slowly, and they may be too excited or frustrated to stay still long enough for you to finish loading them in. It’s okay if you’re nervous! Sometimes you just have to “fake it until you make it” for your dog’s sake.

Listen to Your Dog

These first few sessions in their cart should only last about 5 minutes (unless directed otherwise by CROC) each and happen a few times each day, with plenty of time to rest in between sessions. Be sure to monitor for signs of fatigue. Dogs that lower down onto their front legs are trying to lay down, so it’s important to give them a break when they ask for it. If your dog hesitates to walk, try to encourage them to take a few more steps before calling it quits. If the session has come to a complete halt, it may be best to recognize that your dog needs a break and try again later, keeping things positive and light the entire time. Over time, you can start increasing their cart sessions by 5 minute increments every few days to a week, as long as they are able to finish the session without being exhausted. If you increased your dog’s cart session and they are totally wiped out exhausted at the end, it’s recommended to revert to shorter sessions for a bit longer before attempting to increase again.

If you find that your dog is only wanting to move backwards, this is often a sign that your dog is not strong enough to pull their cart forward as pushing backwards is much easier. For the best chance of successful cart use in this situation, your dog will need additional physical conditioning to become strong enough to pull themselves and the weight of the cart forward. If this is happening with your dog, follow up with the CROC team so that we can work together to create a plan to help your dog get rolling.

Suggested Safety Measures

Use extreme caution around stairs and pools: A fall down the stairs or into a pool can cause serious injury or death. Ideally, these risky areas would have a physical barrier preventing your dog from getting to them.

Use caution around other animals: Not all animals are comfortable around carts and may even be terrified, making your dog a target for attack. You dog cannot defend themselves in the way that a fully ambulatory dog can, so please be very careful about which animals are allowed to interact with your wheeled dog. When allowing your wheeled dog to play with other animals, it is best to prevent overly rough play, as most wheeled pets have conditions that can be worsened by the impact and twisting of rough play.

Practice Good Hygiene: Keeping your dog’s cart clean and well maintained is imperative for comfortable, long term use. Your dog is able to urinate and defecate while in their cart and while it’s not common that the cart becomes soiled, be sure to watch for it and wipe down as needed. The pelvic support area can get dirty just from regular use, so make a good habit of cleaning it regularly and allowing it to dry fully before resuming use.

Abrasions and worn nails are frequently seen when a dog's feet are not adequately protected.
Abrasions and worn nails are frequently seen when a dog's feet are not adequately protected.

Protect Those Paws: Depending on your dog’s condition, they may or may not have some use of their affected limbs. We always want to encourage whatever independent movement your dog can manage, so if they are able to move their legs with the support of the cart, you should let them do so. Either way, you will need to protect their paws from scuffing or dragging on the ground. If they are able to move their legs in any meaningful way, you may want to keep some booties on hand, such as Pawz, or keep them on soft surfaces like grass. Please note that even carpet can cause burns from frequent rubbing. If your dog does not have the ability to move their legs, please take care to use the included supportive pieces on your cart to hold their paws up off the ground. Some carts will have a padded bar along the back for the legs to rest on and others will have dedicated stirrups to secure their feet safely up and away from dragging.

When in Doubt, Call CROC!

When we suggest a cart for your pet and begin preparing them, we use our Veterinary Physical Rehabilitation experience to ensure that your pet is a good candidate, that they get the right cart and the right fit and we stand behind our work. Therefore, patients who have undergone CROC’s Cart Fitting process are extended long-term support for their cart. You are welcome to call with questions any time or even schedule a follow up fitting if something seems off down the line. Some pets will need minor adjustments to their cart as they age or as their condition changes to ensure that the cart remains ergonomic and comfortable. On a regular basis, you will need to check that all screws and bolts are secure and that the wheels are spinning easily and evenly. More frequent maintenance checks should be performed for dogs that are particularly active in their carts. Unfortunately, CROC cannot offer any support for carts obtained outside of our guidance, even if they are obtained through Eddie’s Wheels.

We know that the circumstances leading up to needing a cart are typically challenging and exhausting, but now that you've got some wheels, we hope that you and your dog get as much joy and freedom from your new cart as possible!

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