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. Our senior dog, Oli, is old of body but young at heart. He’s keen to be out adventuring, but we need to be able to do this safely. His senior dog stroller has made an enormous difference in our lives. Here’s why we opted for a stroller, features (pros and cons), getting accustomed to 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 some of the things that bring them joy. When Oli retired from being my running buddy, we adapted to life by taking him on a separate walk if Humphrey went running. As he slowed further, separate walks for each dog become our daily norm. It’s time consuming, but it gives both dogs the types of exercise they need and they’re prefer moving at their own paces. Now the time has come to include a dog stroller in our exercise equipment for a better (and safer) senior dog quality of life. Here’s the scoop on our stroller, both good and bad, and adapting to furfamily stroller use.

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. This posed a serious challenge.
 
We’d previously talked, half in jest, about the day I’d need to roll him in a giant stroller, but now it seemed like that day was actually drawing near. We decided to buy one while Oli 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. 

That’s How We Roll

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. It’s also made a big difference for both Humphrey and I, too. 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 availabilityI wanted a stroller that would 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 here in New Zealand. Shipping from overseas with import duty was prohibitive, and very few suppliers that even offered that option. We ordered the only stroller we could find locally that could carry Oli. It’s not a branded product, but has design features similar to several comparable products.
Choosing a dog stroller features and considerations

Dog Stroller Features

Here are my pros and cons from our dog stroller. These are handy hints for things to look out for when stroller shopping. I’ve also included some of the changes we would make (or have made) 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 portal. I’d consider this an essential for getting a big dog like Oli into the stroller.
  • 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 lightweight 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, the stroller is very tippy when heavily weighted at the rear. This requires careful positioning and handling when Oli is getting in or out. To compensate for this and the lack of locking (see below), I brace the stroller against a solid object at the front tire (wall, post, tree, or similar) with me at the back stabilising whilst assisting Oli. As a safety issue, I consider this the biggest detractor.
  • It does not have any mechanism for locking the wheels against unwanted rolling.
  • It is easy to push, but turning it requires a little more effort. The front wheel 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 stroller models offer the option to lock/unlock a front swivel for easier manoeuvring at low speeds.
  • 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.  

Enhancements and Additions to Our Senior Dog Stroller

Enhancing Our Dog Stroller for Comfort and Ease of Use

For comfort, I’ve added a custom fitted water-resistant cushion to the bottom. It has a removable washable cover and a fully washable inner. When we’re rolling, I prep the stroller with some small dog blankets on top of the cushion. 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.

DIY Dog Stroller Cushion

The waterproof stroller cushion cover 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 the fill of 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. Zeros supplies purchased! Yay! I’m trying to destash.

Making a custom fitted cushion for a dog stroller

DIY Dog Stroller Blankets

I also made some easy care stroller blankets using stash fabric. They were sewn the same way as our DIY double-sided flannelette blankets, but with a different type of material. Not into sewing? No worries. Any type of blanket or plush towel could be folded to size instead of using custom blankets. You could also use a thick folded blanket to pad the stroller base instead of using a cushion. 

Sewing a double sided dog blanket

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. Oli needed a little more encouragement. With his visual deficits (read about Oli’s dog cataract surgery and recovery), he’s not as brave about the unknown. 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 and exit rewards.

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 dog 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. For 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 dogs 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 the stroller only for occasional outings to fun off-leash areas in nice weather. This way, 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. The boys now associate the stroller with going to fun off-leash places and special treats. Both of the dogs 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, actually using 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. Whew! On the plus side, 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). Dog Dad seems to get a lot 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 on foot while Oli is rolling and Oli has a very slow swagger if both dogs are on foot with an empty stroller, people’s assumption is usually that the stroller out of necessity. We get a lot of questions. Most people are very positive once they understand why we decided to buy and use a dog stroller though.  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

Jokes aside, the opinions of random strangers aren’t what’s important. Oli is what really matters. Stroller strolling? 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. That’s all that matters. No regrets, other than perhaps not doing it sooner.
Choosing and Using a Senior Dog Stroller

Pawnote Update on Stroller Life Evolution

We’ve been rolling for quite a while since this post was first shared, and the aging process has rolled on too. To keep you updated, Oli’s stroller has become an increasingly important tool in maintaining his safety and quality of life since it was first purchased and introduced. I’m so glad that we made the decision to buy the stroller and introduce it to him before it became a necessity. He already trusted and enjoyed rolling, so the stroller becoming his safety net felt more natural. Without it, his world would have grown very small.

Roadtrips and Memories

When my parents recently visited from overseas, the stroller allowed Oli to safely join us on several road trips. Such adventures! He even got to stay in a few dog-friendly Airbnbs! We bought a pod for the car roof and clever hubby figured out how to fold down the non-folding 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. So great! We made so many memories and we couldn’t have done it without the stroller. Poppy especially liked rolling the stroller. The grandkids have trained him well.

Decreasing Mobility, Increasing Strolling

Inevitably, despite the best efforts of us and our trusted vets, Oli’s mobility continues to decline with age. The hop-off portions of his walks slowly became shorter. He loves his stroller and is great at asking for a lift when he gets too tired. And at bossily demanding to get out when things look or smell interesting. With time, we reached a stage when the stroller came out not just for long adventures, but for safely maintaining 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 strolling and rolling on 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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