Walk the Plank

older black retriever sits in a green grass field

As Tom is getting up there in years, I’ve been considering a ramp of some sorts for our car. He’s still well able to jump in and out of the backseat where he usually rides, but seeing as he’ll be 11 this fall I figured it might be prudent to get a ramp.

For the past few months I’ve been researching. There are lots of dog ramps and stairs on the market. Foldable, telescoping, adjustable, extra wide, extra long, short, roll up, lightweight, heavy duty, and yet the overwhelming majority require use through a back hatch door or a van type sliding door. With the sheer number of people who drive sedans, small and full size SUVs and who also own dogs you’d think there’d be a good selection of ramps design for side door entry. But there aren’t.

The side door entry options that do exist, many are too wide to fit the narrow opening our car provides. There is a hook strap contraption to fit a standard size ramp so it will more securely balance on a side door but even that didn’t seem very secure. The one I did consider investing in (if my prototype was a bust) was the Pet Loader, but it is pricey for sure.

Another odd thing is how many extra steps a person has to do to actually make a ramp to the car usable. You can’t just open your car door and flip the ramp down. The ramps don’t easily fit in a back seat footwell. So every time you want to use it you have to get it out of the trunk, then set it up, get the dog in, and store it back in the trunk. Repeat steps if you need it to get dog out of car as well. Not very efficient.

After much research and percolating, I came up with a design. Mocked it out in cardboard and made prototype 1.0 out of scrap wood and other materials we had on hand. (If I was going to remake it, I think I’d incorporate a telescoping element similar to what these students came up with)

open side door of a small SUV with a black wood dog ramp extended out

Now I had to teach the old dog to actually use it.

Due to the door width constraints of our vehicle the ramp is only 10” wide. Pretty narrow for a big guy like Tom.

First I set up a narrow agility training board I had on 2 cinder blocks. A nice level plank a few inches off the ground. Tom found this challenging at first, figuring out where to place his rear feet and learn to walk the plank. But he soon mastered it.

Next I propped 1 end up the board up on a table, creating an incline similar to the one on the new car ramp. I could have done this on a stair case if I didn’t have the table available. This too was a challenge for Tom. We took it slow and lots of yummy treats, within a few short sessions he was moving up and down it like his agility pro corgi housemate.

Finally, since our car door has a bit of a jut out that Tom will also have to negotiate as he uses the car ramp, I placed a chair next to the practice incline board to mimic such. A bit more practice and Tom had it figured out. Now, on to the real thing!

Our staged practice paid off, and the old dog has learned another new trick. One that will hopefully help him remain as spry and active as possible in his golden years.

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