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Your dog is the faithful companion you have been longing for. He brightens up your day and brings joy to your life. His energy is abundant and he always wants to play with you. You want to be able to keep him happy and healthy, but being in a wheelchair can make this challenging, as you still need to take him out for regular walks. Of course, you love him very much and want to be able to walk him safely and independently without the need for assistance.
Teaching him to walk beside you obediently is important because it ensures that you can walk him safely without him getting run over by the wheels or his leash getting tangled up. It is also essential when you are walking him next to a busy road that he walks beside you patiently and does not pull you into the road.
Not all dogs, however, may be capable of displaying the characteristics that are required in order to assist disabled individuals, and you will need to gauge if your dog Is up to the job yourself. The characteristics that your dog will need to exhibit are; being calm, focused, friendly (to other humans and dogs) and obedient. Learning to walk beside a wheelchair will take a lot of awareness and patience and therefore may not be suitable for young puppies. If you do have a puppy, you may want to consider waiting until he is at least 6 months old.
Teaching him to walk beside the wheelchair should take anywhere between 1 -2 weeks depending on how quickly your dog picks it up or how frightened he is of the wheelchair. It will also depend on how much you have worked on obedience and awareness training with him previously.
In order to teach him to walk beside a wheelchair, you will need to have patience and a positive attitude. You will also need a leash between 3 – 4 feet long to allow him some freedom for sniffing time. In addition, you will need a clicker and lots of his favorite treats.
You might want to consider training him in your yard to start with, to limit the distractions and to make sure his full attention is focused on learning.
Once you are prepared, you can now to teach him to walk next to a wheelchair like a professional!
The Walk With a Partner Method
Get him used to being around the wheelchair if you haven’t already done so. Perhaps leave it by his bed when you aren’t using it or sit next to him in the wheelchair when you are in the house. It is important that he feels comfortable around the wheelchair and isn’t frightened by it.
Now that he is comfortable with the wheelchair, you can bring in a friend to help you. So, start off by having someone else stand next to your wheelchair while he is on the leash and position him next to the wheels of the wheelchair.
Start at a standstill and tell him to sit next to the wheelchair. When you are ready and you feel like he is listening, tell him to “walk” and slowly start to move the wheelchair forward.
Practice stopping a few times so that he gets used to stopping when the wheelchair comes to a stop. As you slow down, have your walking partner gently pull back on your dog’s leash until you both come to a standstill. Use the vocal command “stop” and reward him with a tasty treat when he has performed the behavior well.
Practice makes perfect
Repeat steps 3 and 4 as many times as needed so that he begins to pay attention to the speed of the wheelchair and moves in sync with you, staying beside the wheelchair at all times.
Increase the speed
Once you have conquered steps 3 and 4 and are confident he is comfortable with the wheelchair, try increasing the pace slightly. However, only increase the speed slightly to start with, so you don’t startle him. Practice steps 2 and 3 again a few times at a faster pace.
The Clicker Method
Understand the clicker
A clicker is a great way of communicating with your dog and getting him to pay attention to you. You can use the clicker to signal to him when he has performed a behavior correctly.
To get him familiar with the clicker, position him in front of you and command him to sit. Every time he performs this behavior correctly, give a click followed by a reward (a treat) to reinforce the behavior. It is extremely important that he is rewarded for his efforts. This will ensure he will be motivated to repeat the behavior again.
Click and walk
Now that he is responding to the clicker, it’s time to move on to walking. Have him sit beside the wheelchair until you are ready to move. Then command him to walk and use the clicker to signal to him if he has performed correctly.
Walking and stopping
Slow the wheelchair to a standstill and give a “stop” command in a firm voice. As soon as he has stopped, give him a click to let him know he has behaved correctly and reward him with a treat straight away.
If your dog starts to stray away from the wheelchair, gently pull back on the leash and tell him to stop. Use the clicker when he has stopped. Again, If he performs well then give him a click and a treat for his good work.
You will need to repeat steps 3 and 4 around 10 – 15 times a day until he gets the hang of walking patiently beside your wheelchair. The more you practice, the quicker your dog will learn his new skill. Once he has gotten the hang of it, you can start to cut down on using the clicker and treats.
If he doesn’t seem to be listening to you and is getting distracted, try not to punish him. Do, however, keep using the clicker and reward him whenever he does perform a behavior correctly. He will eventually get the hang of it.
The Slow & Steady Method
Have him start by sitting next to your wheelchair while you hold onto his leash. Start off very slowly and tell him to walk on. By going slowly, you will force him to slow down. This will also help you to control him and the wheelchair simultaneously.
If he starts to pull and move anywhere apart from beside the wheelchair, stop your wheelchair and give him a gentle pull on the leash. You should also give a vocal command to “stop” in a deep voice to give the tone of authority.
Keep the leash clear of the wheels at all times and while you are moving along slowly, practice moving slightly further away from him so that he does not walk as close to the wheels.
If he tries to stop at any point, you must pull the gently on the leash and use the vocal command “walk” in a deep assertive voice. It is important that you decide when to slow down or stop and not your dog. He must be taught you are in control.
When he does follow your instruction correctly, hand over a tasty treat. You can also give him verbal praise to reinforce the point. The happier he feels afterward, the more likely it is he will repeat the behavior.
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 02/09/2018, edited: 01/08/2021