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Ramp Training for the IVDD Community

By Vicki Ronchette, CPDT, CAP2  

Take me directly to the Ramp Training video

Choosing a Ramp Offering your dog a ramp to assist him on getting onto furniture or onto the bed seems like a simple idea, but actually getting the dog to use the ramp could be more challenging than you may expect.

foam module ramp for IVDD dog

Puppystairs.com foam module ramp

As a professional trainer and behavior consultant living with several Dachshunds, including some who have suffered back injuries or ailments, I have taught many dogs to use ramps.  I am happy to share these ideas with others in hopes that it will help people assist their dogs in becoming accustomed to using these helpful tools.

 

     There are a lot of different ramps on the market that you can buy.  You can also construct your own, which may be the way to go depending on your situation.  With a dog that has had severe back problems, is weak or experiences pain, a ramp would probably be easier for the dog.  Keep in mind that the less steep they are the better.
     Some of the ramps on the market for dogs are constructed so that they are fairly steep.  This can cause the dog to just prefer to jump over the ramp or race up or down it, particularly if you have a long backed dog like a Dachshund.  I recommend getting as level a ramp as possible and a ramp that is not slick but carpeted to help with traction.  Sometimes when people have a difficult time getting their dog to use the a ramp, it is because of the way that particular one is made.  So, it is important to think about this when you buy or make yours.  Some dogs will take readily to one type, but not to another type.



Getting Used to the Ramp Some dogs will need some time to just get accustomed to the ramp.  So, you may need to just set it up and see what happens.  Put it where you want it, against your furniture or bed and then just leave it there for a few days.  Some dogs will just start using it on their own.  Others will require training. As soon as your dog is comfortable in the presence of the ramp, you can begin training.

Rewards The first thing that you need to do is find a high value food that your dog loves.  The food will be used as a “reinforcer” while we train the behavior.   The food should be something the dog really likes such as small bits of chicken, hot dog, lunch meat or cheese.  We will use food to build and reinforce the behavior.  Eventually, the behavior of using the ramp will be reinforced by being on the furniture.  In other words, to train it, we are using food, but the behavior will be maintained by the access to the furniture that the dog receives by using it.


     Once the dog is completely used to the ramp you are ready to begin.  With the dog out of the room, place a couple of pieces of high value food at the bottom of the ramp.  Position yourself next to the ramp and wait for your dog to find the food.  The moment he starts to eat the food, place another piece of food, a few inches higher from the first piece.  If the dog eats the second piece, place another piece a couple of inches higher.  If the dog doesn’t eat the second piece, feed a little bit more on that lowest spot and then try again to place it a little higher. 
     If it is taking you some time to get the dog to step on, periodically toss a treat directly in front of the ramp but a few feet away so that he gets to start the process over.  Remember that approaching the ramp is part of the process, so it is okay to do this.  Also, if the dog is unsure, this gives him a release of pressure and time to collect his thoughts and start over.  Finally, approaching the ramp over and over will help him get more used to the ramp and associate the ramp with good things.


Some things to keep in mind
• Do not ever pressure or force your dog to
   use the stairs or ramp. 
• Do not just place the dog on the ramp,
   especially if they are uncomfortable with it.
   Just being placed onto something you
   are worried or suspicious about will make
   the dog feel worried and want to get off of
   it.  Also, it is a breach of trust, between you
   and the dog.
• Take your time and allow your dog to take
   breaks.
• Use very high value treats like chicken,
   cheese or pieces of hot dog.  The pieces
   should be very small but high value because
   you want to reinforce every single little
   move in the right direction.
• Placing yourself next to the ramp, on the
   side of it, will help give your dog a sense of
   security.


 Alternate link to
Instructional video on ramp training:
http://youtu.be/0bbsvA62Ls8

For this video demonstration, ramp rails were not used in order to provide the best viewing. Personal knowledge of your dog, will help you decide if rails should be used during training and as a permanent thing with your dog.



Tips
If the dog is not interested, you probably need to use higher value food.  The dog may not be willing to try and figure it out for kibble, but may be willing to work through it for chicken.  So, be prepared to switch up the reinforcer if necessary.
     It is critical that the dog be allowed to choose to approach the ramp and step onto it and that he not be forced to do it.  Too much pressure, even enticing with food can be too much for some dogs who are cautious about something.
     If the dog is comfortable eating the food and moving forward a little bit on the ramp, go ahead and continue to add food as the dog takes steps forward.
     If your dog picks it up easily, either lift him off the couch and try again, or teach him to walk down the ramp.
     If your dog does not pick it up quickly, it’s okay, just spend more time teaching him and working through it.  Also, if your dog is not comfortable going up, try putting him on the couch and then seeing if going down is easier than going up.  Some dogs are more comfortable coming down the ramp.  It just depends on the dog.

 

Be sure to teach the dog to come down the ramp confidently.  Dogs who do not know how to use the ramp may jump over it.
     The biggest mistake I see people make when they are shaping a behavior like this is that they want and expect the dog to get it too fast.  You absolutely must move at the dog’s pace. 
     While I do use food for this training, I am very careful to train in small enough steps that the dog is never pushed or forced and gets reinforced for every tiny step or move in the right direction.  I want to build this behavior with confidence and allowing the dog to choose helps to do that.
     If you have multiple dogs, practice with each of them and see who takes to it the easiest.  Then, you can work with that dog and then let the other dog observe and follow the first dog.  Then, try progressing to the ramp.







    Disclaimer:
    This information is presented for educational purposes and as a resource for the Dachshund community. The coordinators are not veterinarians or health care professionals. Nothing herein should be interpreted as medical advice and all should contact their pet care professionals for advice. The coordinators are not responsible for the substance and content contained herein and do not advocate any particular product, item or position contained herein.
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