Monday, 30 September 2019
Textual description of firstImageUrl

Using a Dog Stroller for Better Senior Quality of Life

Two dalmatian dogs on a walking trail with a large dog stroller

Life with a senior dog is filled with love, but also the sadness of watching them struggle or miss out on things that used to bring them joy.  When Oli started slowing down and retired from being my running buddy, we adapted to life by taking him on a separate walk if Humphrey and I were running.  As he slowed further, separate walkies become our daily norm. It's time consuming, but it gives both dogs the types of exercise they need and enjoy. Now the time has come to include a stroller in our exercise equipment for a better (and safer) senior quality of life. Here's the scoop on our stroller (good and bad) and adjusting to stroller life.

My walks with Oli are a very slow senior's stroll these days, but he is keen to go every day and that brings me joy no matter what the pace, distance, or weather.  Unfortunately, our location combined with Oli's size and health became a limiting factor on where I could safely and confidently take him walking, especially when I'm on my own. A big dog can't just be picked up and carried back to the house/car if he gets too tired or begins struggling.  I didn't want him missing out on adventures and the mental stimulation of varied walks. We'd previously (half in jest) talked about the day I'd need to roll him in a stroller, but that day was drawing near. We decided to do it now, while he was still mobile enough to enjoy having a hop-on hop-off tour bus. If the time comes when there's less hopping off, the stroller will already be something he's used to cruising in for an easier adjustment. 

As some of you have already seen in our Instragram stories (thanks for the sweet messages!), we've been rolling for a few months now. Even though we only use it intermittently, the stroller has been making a big difference in Oli's life (as well as Humphrey's and mine). As promised, here's the scoop on our stroller experience thus far.


Choosing a Dog Stroller


The key considerations when buying a dog stroller are the dog's size/weight and intended use, from there it becomes a matter of other nice-to-have features, budget, and availability.  

I wanted a stroller that could comfortably accommodate Oli and was robust enough for use on unpaved pathways. Unfortunately, there were few options for a dog Oli's size/weight available in New Zealand and shipping from overseas combined with import duty was prohibitive (and few suppliers even offer the option). We ordered the only stroller we could find that could accommodate Oli. It is not a branded product, but has design features similar to a number of comparable products. Here are my pros and cons of things to look out for when stroller shopping:

Large red dog stroller being assembled and used by smiling Dalmatian dog

Pros: It is a convertible bike trailer/stroller style, with lots of mesh windows and a large rear entry (which I'd consider essential for a big dog like Oli), decent weather resistance including a roll-down rain shield for the large front mesh window, and large tires (air-filled and knobbly) for rougher terrain. It can be zipped fully secure and also has an interior tether point. It is light weight and rolls well on a variety of surfaces, as long as the tire are appropriately inflated, although the fixed front safety wheel requires extra effort when manoeuvring (see below). Assembly was easier that expected and the construction seems fairly sturdy. We did add some after-market gaskets to tighten up the handlebar-to-frame connection as the rocking slack was annoying me during use.

Cons: Unfortunately, it is tippy when heavily weighted at the rear, which requires careful positioning and handling while Oli is going in/out. To compensate for this and the lack of locking (see below), I brace it between a solid object at the front tire (wall, post, etc) and myself at the back stabilising whilst assisting. As a safety issue, I consider this the biggest detractor. Additionally, while it is easy to push, turning requires a little more effort as the front wheel (when used as a stroller) does not swivel/pivot.  Fixed front wheels are commonly used as a safety feature on strollers, especially ones that can be used for jogging, to avoid the risk of speed wobbling accidentally causing a fast-moving stroller to turn or tip. The stroller is  easily turned with a little pressure on the handle bars, but some models offer the option to lock/unlock a front swivel for easier manoeuvring at low speeds. Other cons are that it is not easily collapsible/foldable for storage or transport, and it does not have a mechanism for locking the wheels against unwanted rolling. 

If I was redesigning or modifying (some of which we may actually do ourselves to Oli's stroller), improvements would include: shifting the rear wheels back or including a rear kick-stand mechanism to prevent tipping during  stationary load/unload, adding a wheel lock mechanism to prevent rolling during load/unload/park, and making the entry portal as large as the structural framing allows.  

For comfort, I've added a custom fitted water-resistant cushion (removable washable cover and a fully washable inner) to the bottom, and when we're rolling I prep the stroller with some small soft dog blankets on top. They're comfy, but also very easy swap out for wash/dry, which helps with water, mud, etc. They also buffer the water-resistant cushion fabric from scratching or punctures.

Step-by-step making a custom waterproof cushion for dog stroller

The cushion was made the same way as our DIY fitted dog bed covers using a remnant of waterproof fabric left from when I made our previous old beds. The inner cushion was upcycled from an old topper and I made a washable cover for the fluff with odd pieces of fabric from my stash. I made some stroller blankets using stash fabric as well, sewn in the same manner as our DIY double-sided flannelette blankets. Zeros supplies purchased (I've been trying to destash, so was quite chuffed with this). 

Step-by-step making a dog stroller blanket



Getting Our Dogs Accustomed to Stroller Strolling


Both dogs were allowed to sniff out the stroller in the safety and comfort of the house before our initial stroll. Not surprisingly, Humphrey was trying to hop into the stroller the minute it was placed on the floor for familiarisation. With his visual deficits (read more here about his dog cataract surgery and recovery), Oli is not as brave these days and getting him used to the stroller has been a careful process involving a lot of very tasty treats. We've nicknamed the stroller the jerky wagon because I usually carry some high-value jerky dog treats for entry/exit.

Oli needed to get used to going in/out of the stroller and the feeling of movement with the stroller in motion. With Oli being at the upper end of even the largest stroller size, assisting him through the access door isn't the easiest task, but we're getting used to it.  I've taken to doing braced for safety as noted above and coaching him in with a special treat. Since his mobility is a factor, I give a supportive inwards boost to the rear and help make sure his position is comfortable once inside. 

For now, we're using it only for occasional outings to fun off-leash areas in nice weather so that the stroller is associated with good things (by both Oli and Humphrey).  I try to keep the course smooth and pace moderated, rolling by lots of good smells, giving frequent vocal reassurance and praise, and making occasional treat stops.

Smiling dog in a large dog stroller with mesh windows

Humphrey needed to be trained to walk on-lead with the stroller, and he has taken to carriage dog life remarkably well.  On our initial outing, he walked with me on lead next to the empty stroller, getting used to the strange rolling object and learning to keep his distance from the wheels. We then transitioned Oli into the stroller while he walked on lead with my husband nearby.  After the hop-off portion of our tour, I walked with both to get myself comfortable while my husband was there for back-up in case I needed to hand off. From that point on, he's been a natural. We're very lucky. He associated the stroller with going to fun off-leash places and special treats, and gets excited when I take it out to prepare for outings. After the walk to get to the park, he's happy slowly sniffing along at Oli's snail pace (and occasionally playing with passing friends) for the off lead portion of our outings which is also fantastic.


Adjusting to Crazy Dog Mom (or Dad) Stroller Life


When you're not used to operating a stroller, rolling can take some getting used to, especially with big heavy dog as cargo and a locked front safety wheel as noted above. It's a great workout with my pawsonal trainers!

People often comment that I should have Humphrey towing the stroller, but safety and control of both need to be in my hands when we're rolling together. I keep Humphrey's lead looped around my hand (which is usually on the handlebar), and he walks beside either the stroller or myself. He likes checking in on Oli through the side windows periodically. :) At certain locations, like narrow sidewalks at neighbourhood bridges, he is brought into position between myself and the rail, safely away from traffic and under maximum control in the hazard area. He is used to this and happily obliges, receiving lots of vocal praise in return. 

Reactions from other people are always interesting. I've seen everything from shocked surprise (understandable), excitement and/or adoring smiles (my kind of people), to disgust (clearly not my kind of people). Because Humphrey is with us on foot if Oli is rolling and Oli has a very slow swagger if both dogs are on foot with an empty stroller, the assumption is usually that the stroller out of necessity and not babying, which may not be the case in different circumstances. We get a lot of questions, and often people are very positive once they understand why we decided to buy and use a stroller.  To some, it probably seems excessively indulgent, but such is life. The opinions of random strangers aren't what's important here - Oli is what really matters.

I think you can probably guess by this blog, that I conceded to being a crazy dog lady a long time ago, so perhaps the stroller is just one more step in that evolution. Haha!

Check your pride at the door, step out with a smile, and have fun together, no matter what anyone thinks. Remember that you are doing this for the safety, well-being, and quality of life of your beloved pet no matter what looks or comments you may get. Oli can safely enjoy more of the world, our dogs love being out together, I love giving them that happiness, and that's all that matters. No regrets, other than perhaps not doing it sooner.

2 comments:

  1. Is it safe for mixed breed dogs like Yorkie, Maltese etc? Can you suggest me which brand is better to use?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ivana! You definitely don't need a giant stroller like ours for a small pup like a Yorkie or a Maltese, but that's actually a good thing. There are way more options for small strollers and they're generally less expensive too. :)

      I can't recommend a specific brand/product, as I would only do that if we had personally tested something; however, it's better to make a case-by-case decision about what is right for you and your pet. See the tips in the post above on choosing a stroller and what we did (and didn't) like about ours.

      Start by measuring and weighing your dog(s) and deciding how you would be using the stroller. This will help you look for an appropriate size and prioritise key features. For example, most strollers can handle urban use on smooth roads/walkways but you'd want a sturdier frame and better wheels for use on country roads, trails, and paths. In addition to the usual features for a stroller, with a little dog, pay extra attention to the positioning of windows. It's great if they can still see when relaxed lying down, nut just when seated upright or standing. Because small dogs tend to ride high (not unlike a baby stroller), it's also extra important that they be secured when in the stroller, so mesh window coverings and safety tethers are good features.

      I hope that helps!

      Delete

We love comments almost as much as treats! 💌 Say hello and share your thoughts.