Bringing a “super dog on wheels” into my household was one of the best the decisions I’ve ever made. Charlie has brought joy and light into my life on even the darkest days, and I just can’t imagine life without my rolling sidekick. It was a long process getting Charlie acclimated to his wheels, but it was well worth it. I hope this post is able to help fellow wheelie parents who are having a difficult time getting their pups adjusted to their adaptive equipment.
When I first adopted Charlie, his amazing rescuers at Limbo Chihuahua Rescue had already obtained a set of wheels for him. His wheels were sent from Walkin’ Pets and were adjusted to fit his measurements, but Charlie didn’t exactly take to his cart right off the bat. In fact, he was initially terrified of it. The sound of the wheels spinning against the concrete, or even the light noise caused by the fastening of the velcro straps sent poor Charlie into a case of what I like to refer to as “The Chihuahua Shakes.” (If you’ve ever lived with a chihuahua, you know exactly what I’m talking about). Charlie would tremble in fear if I tried to put on his harness, and if we ever actually made it to the point where Charlie was strapped into the cart, he would just stand there, frozen in fear and confusion. It broke my heart.
I so desperately wanted my sweet boy to be able to run, play, and go on walks with his brothers, but at first, it didn’t look like this would ever be possible. If you are dealing with a “new wheeler” in your house that hasn’t taken to his or her wheels right away, don’t get discouraged! Every animal takes to their cart at a different pace. Some dogs hop in the cart and run off into the sunset as though they were born with wheels. Others, like Charlie, take months to get acclimated to their new equipment. The following is a list of tips and tricks I used to help Charlie adjust to his cart, and I hope they prove helpful to any other paw-rents struggling with the same issue.
- Start slow. Really slow. Like, baby steps slow. For us, the first two weeks literally consisted of nothing but picking up the cart and placing it next to Charlie to allow him to sniff and get used to it. Every time I would place the cart next to Charlie, I would also give him a treat. Within a week or two, Charlie would start getting excited and doing his “happy dance” any time he saw me pick up the cart, because he now associated the cart with yummy treats 🙂
- Once he was comfortable being near the wheels, I started trying to get Charlie accustomed to the noise the wheels made. I would take him out on my back patio, and would slowly roll the cart back and forth next to Charlie, feeding him treats the whole time to keep him calm. This stage lasted maybe 4-5 days for us, but again, don’t place any time limit on you or your pooch. Every pup works at their own pace, and some will become comfortable with the cart quicker than others. Charlie had come from an abusive environment, so noises were a BIG issue for him initially.
- After Charlie got over his initial fear of the wheels, we moved on to actually fastening him into the cart. This is the part where many “pawrents” become frustrated. When Charlie was in his wheels for the first time, he just stood there looking at me with this expression of, “And what, exactly, do you expect me to do now?” Again, treats were the great motivator, and I literally laid a trail of treats from one side of the patio to the other to coax Charlie into trying to move forward. This stage took quite a while–maybe two weeks or so of daily cart training with “treat trails.”
- Once Charlie understood that he could self-propel in his cart, it was time to introduce the leash. Charlie and I started on very short walks (think 10-20 yards) down the alley behind our home. Progress was slow at first, and I had to occasionally coax him with treats to get him to move, but eventually we got to the point where we could walk all the way down the alley and back without Charlie stopping or freezing in his tracks.
- It was at this point that I made the decision to head to the dog park to try this wheelchair thing out in the “real world.” I took Charlie to a neighborhood park, and fastened him into his wheels on the side walk. That’s when the unexpected happened—he took off! It was like everything from the last two months suddenly clicked with him in an instant, and off he went. I will never forget that day. I was so excited to see him running, that I started bawling my eyes out in the middle of a public park like the crazy chihuahua momma I am.
Once Charlie took off, that was that. He has been rockin’ and wheelin’ through the streets of St. Petersburg ever since. Charlie’s cart has given him his mobility back, and now he goes on walks absolutely everywhere with his other brothers and sister. In fact, with his wheels on, Charlie is actually the fastest chi-chi in the pack! He is now able to wheel along the beach, up hiking trails, and through the aisles of Home Depot with ease. If you are struggling to help your pet adjust to life on wheels, don’t give up! Just remember that every dog (and human!) progresses at their own pace, and there is no need to box yourselves into any kind of a “time frame.” Be easy on yourself, offer your wheeler lots and lots of treats, and roll on friends!