Choosing and Using a Senior Dog Stroller

Choosing and using a dog stroller for senior dog quality of life

Using a dog stroller can help a senior dog safely maintain a better quality of life. It’s made an enormous difference in our lives. Here’s why we opted for a stroller, features (pros and cons), getting accustomed with stroller use, and lessons learned along the way. 

Life with a Senior Dog

Life with a senior dog is filled with love, but also the sadness of watching them struggle or miss out on things that 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 walks become our daily norm. It’s time consuming, but it gives both dogs the types of exercise they need. 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 stroller life.

Why We Decided to Buy a Senior Dog Stroller

My walks with Oli are a very slow senior’s stroll these days, but he is keen to go every day. 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 on my own. A big dog like Oli can’t just be picked up and carried if he gets 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 is 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 Instagram 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 and weight and intended use, from there it becomes a matter of other nice-to-have featuresbudget, 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 and weight available in New Zealand. 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.
Choosing a dog stroller features and considerations

Dog Stroller Features

Here are my pros and cons from our stroller. These are handy hints for things to look out for when stroller shopping. I’ve also included some of the changes we would (or have) to the stroller design, plus additional features for comfort and practicality.

Pros and Positives:

  • Versatile convertible bike trailer or stroller.
  • Well ventilated and good visibility. Lots of mesh windows, including a big zip open front window.
  • Accessible large rear entry (which I’d consider essential for a big dog like Oli).
  • Can be zipped fully secure and also has an interior tether point.
  • Decent weather resistance, including a roll-down rain shield for the large front mesh window.
  • Rugged large tires (air-filled and knobbly) for rougher terrain. The stroller 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 than expected and the construction seems fairly sturdy. We did add some after-market gaskets to tighten up the handlebar-to-frame connection. The rocking slack was annoying me during use.
Cons and Concerns: 
 
  • Unfortunately, it is tippy when heavily weighted at the rear. This requires careful positioning and handling while Oli is going in or 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, tree, or similar) and myself at the back stabilising whilst assisting. As a safety issue, I consider this the biggest detractor.
  • It is easy to push, but 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. They help lower 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 to pop a low wheelie, but some models offer the option to lock/unlock a front swivel for easier manoeuvring at low speeds.
  • It does not have a mechanism for locking the wheels against unwanted rolling. 
  • It is not easily collapsible or foldable for storage or transport. Although we did find a way to hack this for taking the stroller with us on road trips with minimal disassembly and reassembly.
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.  

Enhancing Comfort and Ease of Use

For comfort, I’ve added a custom fitted water-resistant cushion (removable washable cover and a fully washable inner) to the bottom. 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.
Making a custom fitted cushion for a dog stroller

The cushion was made the same way as our DIY fitted dog bed covers. I used a remnant of waterproof fabric left from when I made our old dog beds. The inner cushion was upcycled from a worn-out old pet bed that previously belonged to Tiger. I made a washable cover for the fluff with odd pieces of fabric from my stash. 

I also made some easy care stroller blankets using stash fabric. They were sewn in the same manner as our DIY double-sided flannelette blankets. Zeros supplies purchased! I’m trying to destash, so was quite chuffed.

Sewing a double sided dog blanket
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Getting Our Dogs Accustomed to Stroller Strolling

Introducing the New Stroller

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.

Getting Our Senior Dog Used to Using the Stroller

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. 
Smiling Dalmatian dog in a stroller

Getting Our Younger Dog Used to Accompanying the Stroller

Humphrey needed to be trained to walk on-lead with the stroller. 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, Humphrey’s been a natural. We’re very lucky. After the walk to get to the destination (usually an off leash park), he’s happy slowly sniffing along at Oli’s snail pace (and occasionally playing with passing friends) for the off-leash portion of our outings.

Reinforcing the Positives

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. They now associate the stroller with going to fun off-leash places and special treats. Both boys get excited when I take it out to prepare for outings.

Adjusting to Crazy Dog Mom (and Dad) Stroller Life

Getting Used to Using a Stroller

In addition to the coordination learning curve of getting the dog in and out of the stroller (see above), rolling with it has required some settling in as well. 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!

Learning to Roll and Stroll Safe

People often joke that I should have Humphrey towing the stroller, but that would be a terrible idea in reality. 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. He’s 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. 

Expect a Few Stares

Reactions from other people are 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). Hubby seems to get lots of adoring looks from the ladies when he’s at the handle of the stroller with gorgeous old Oli smiling out. Hmm… Because Humphrey is with us on foot while 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. We get a lot of questions, and people are often very positive once they understand why we decided to buy and use a stroller.  To some, it might seem excessively indulgent, but such is life. You can probably guess by this blog that I conceded to being a crazy dog lady long ago, so perhaps the stroller is just one more step in my evolution. Haha! 

Your Senior Dog is What REALLY Matters

Crazy dog lady jokes aside, the opinions of random strangers aren’t what’s important. Oli is what really matters. 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.
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Update on Stroller Life Evolution

Oli’s stroller was been an increasingly important tool in maintaining his safety and quality of life since it was first purchased and introduced. I’m really glad that we made the decision to buy the stroller and introduce it to him before it became a necessity. Without it, his world would have grown very small.

Roadtrips and Memories

When my parents visited from overseas, the stroller allowed Oli to safely join us on several road trips. He even got to stay in a few dog-friendly Airbnbs! We bought a pod for the roof (full car) and clever hubby figured out how to fold down the stroller with only a few quick bolts in/out for reassembly. We cruised new dog-friendly parks and trails, revisited some old haunts, and never needed to debate the length of walking, safety of Oli joining the group, or who would stay behind. We made so many memories and we couldn’t have done it without the stroller. Poppy especially liked rolling the stroller.

Decreasing Mobility, Increasing Strolling

Inevitably, despite the best efforts of us and our trusted vets, Oli’s mobility declined. The hop-off portions of the walk slowly became shorter. He’s great at asking for a lift when he gets too tired. And at bossily demanding to get out when things look or smell interesting. Then we reached a stage when the stroller came out not for long adventures, but for safety and extending normal walks around the neighbourhood. I was devastated, but wiley old minx Oli wasn’t the least bit sad. It was just another step in his stroller evolution and there were still more adventures to be had.

Time is short, and the quality of life factor is key to knowing when it’s time to say farewell. I know the day is coming soon, but the stroller is allowing Oli to enjoy his final time. Cruising happily, smelling the world, and making memories while we can.

The Wind in Our Fur

When COVID lockdown clipped our road trip wings and prohibited even short car trips to nearby parks, the stroller was phenomenally helpful. Without it, Oli’s world would have been very tiny. Instead, we continued our strolled and rolling on our permitted neighbourhood walks. I even took him on a few short jogs so he could feel the wind is his fur. You should have seen the crazy happy old lad! My middle-aged stroller jogging speed was definitely a poor substitute for a car ride, but he still got to feel a little bit of wind in the fur and flap of the ears. All from the comfort of his stroller cockpit. I hope it reminded him of when he was still my lightning fast running buddy. 

Choosing and using a stroller for senior dogs

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