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Help! My Senior Dog Has Trouble Getting On and Off My Bed

We moved to a studio apartment, where under the bed must double as storage space. The problem? My bed is now too high for my arthritic pup. Help!

Wendy Newell  |  Jul 6th 2016


Dogster family, I need your expertise and guidance. My senior pup now needs help getting up on the human bed, and I’m at my wit’s end trying to find the right solution.

Recently, my 11-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer, Riggins, and I moved from a two-bedroom house into a studio apartment. The new rule is that furniture has to double as/allow for storage. For example, I raised my bed to fit much-needed drawers underneath. Everything was A-OK until I realized that my new bed was slightly higher than my senior pup should be jumping.

Riggins, king of the human bed! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Riggins, king of the human bed! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Riggins has always slept on his own bed. In our new studio, this hasn’t changed. His need to get both of us up at 5 a.m. for his breakfast hasn’t either, nor has his need to come up onto the human bed after to cuddle. The new higher leap onto the my bed has taxed his newly diagnosed arthritic back legs. Sure, he can do it, but it takes a lot of concentration.

You can see it in his eyes. First he comes up next to the bed to whine a bit and survey the situation. Then he backs up and walks up to the bed again, like a stuntman surveying his upcoming shot. Next he backs up just a few steps farther and makes a running leap onto the bed. It’s a tight squeeze in our tiny studio, and Riggins has to be precise so he doesn’t run into the storage ottoman or the curio cabinet where all of our dishes are stored.

"Who cares how I got up here. I'm up here!" (Photo by Wendy Newell)

“Who cares how I got up here. I’m up here!” (Photo by Wendy Newell)

The leap up to the bed is deliberate. Sometimes his bottom half lags a bit and I worry about his safety. Don’t even ask about heading back down. I hold my breath and hope for the best.

I introduced a square ottoman that acts as a step. If I lead him to it, he will use it as a booster to get up, although it isn’t graceful and doesn’t seem any less painful. If I’m not there, forget about it: It’s not being used.

I asked around, and the consensus was that pet steps are useless for most dogs, as many just don’t want to use them. The only successes reported were for owners who had carefully constructed custom steps. Not out of the question for me, just not the easy solution I want.

Like any modern-age computer-literate person, I turned to Amazon to solve my problem. After much research, I decided Riggins would prefer a ramp over steps. I didn’t base this conclusion on any real science. It was a feeling. After all, Mom knows best.

Riggins happily lounging in his bed, (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Riggins happily lounging in his bed, (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Early morning snuggles with mom. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Early morning snuggles with mom. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

I bought a ramp that seemed to be study enough to hold my big boy and waited joyfully for the Amazon Gods to deliver next day. It was time to teach my darling pup how to use his new equipment and stay safe leaping up to and down from the human bed. I grabbed some high-value treats and got ready for battle.

I didn’t get far. Riggins has proven to be the kind of pup you can’t force into a situation. For example, ever since a near-tragic episode at a friends’ pool as a puppy, he has been afraid of water. If you try to force him into a body of liquid evil, as he sees it, you are never going to succeed. The only chance you have of him enjoying the cool feeling of H2O around his ankles is to ignore him and let him wade in at his own pace. It takes a lot of patience, but it’s the best way.

"Nope!" Riggins response to coming down off the bed using the ramp. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

“Nope!” Riggins response to coming down off the bed using the ramp. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

I tried patience with our be ramp. I tried coercing with the high-value treats. I helped boost him up. I blocked off any route except the glorious ramp. Still, it was torture getting him to use it. Once up, he would happily stay up there for the rest of his life if his only option was to use the ramp to come down. Each attempt at training ended in a horrific game of chicken, where it is his will against mine. I’m ashamed to say, he always wins and I pull aside all obstacles so he can leap down to the ground. A leap that I know he is getting too old to make.

Riggins just turned 11. June 22nd was his birthday. As a big dog, he hit “senior” years ago. His last trip to the vet resulted in pain pills for the start of arthritis in his back legs. My sweet baby boy is getting older. I’m increasingly afraid that the leap up and down from the human bed will hurt him.

"My front paws are on it! Give me my treat!." (Photo by Wendy Newell)

“My front paws are on it! Give me my treat!.” (Photo by Wendy Newell)

"I don't care how many of those tasty treats you have, I'm not using that ramp!" (Photo by Wendy Newell)

“I don’t care how many of those tasty treats you have, I’m not using that ramp!” (Photo by Wendy Newell)

I simply can’t have that. I have to find a safe and effective way for him to get to and from his favorite napping spot, curled next to me. What am I to do? Seriously, I’m asking for your help, what do I do?

Please share your suggestions. Are there better training techniques to get Riggins to use his ramp? Should I ditch the not-inexpensive ramp solution and invest in some stairs? And if so, what types of stairs do you recommend? I have such a small space that I need a solution that is compact, usable, and, if possible, doubles as storage. Any ideas? Help!