Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who
partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Training a dog to use a ramp to go up a truck or car is a similar process of
training a dog to use a ramp in the canine sport of agility.
A time may come when you may need to train a dog to use a ramp. Dogs, although
agile for most of their lives, will eventually start to slow down as they
age—they tend to develop mobility problems along the way. Younger dogs may
also develop orthopedic problems which can make jumping in and out of a car or
For an old dog with arthritis, jumping in and out of a car can be a painful
experience and it may also lead to further injuries such as a deep muscle
bruise or a twist of a joint. Some dogs may also develop a serious orthopedic
injury such as a fracture or even injuries to the spine. A ramp helps reduce
strain on a dog’s legs, back, and hips.
Many dog owners purchase ramps to help their dogs up into their car or truck,
only to realize that their dogs are reluctant to use them. We can’t blame
these dogs though: Unless a dog has been enrolled in the sport of agility, a
ramp is something odd, and it can be quite intimidating too.
It doesn’t help the fact that many dogs are naturally neophobic. In other
words, they are afraid of novel things. They may be fearful of approaching
large objects, let alone walking on them, especially when they are not level
or stable enough. Many dogs are afraid of losing their footing on surfaces
they are not familiar with.
In order to help these dogs out, we must put ourselves a bit in their shoes
(or better, their paws!), to help them overcome this initial diffidence and
encourage them to walk up and down with more confidence.
The best way to train a dog to use a ramp is to go slow and steady, never
forcing the dog up but allowing the dog to explore and learn more about the
ramp on his own in the first place.
In order to train your dog to use a ramp, all you will need is (of course,
patience!) a ramp, some tasty treats, a clicker (optional), and if possible, a
couch or sidewalk to practice on a slighter incline and boxes or chairs (or a
helper) to prevent your dog from falling.
Items to train your dog to use a ramp.
Methods Used to Train a Dog to Use a Ramp
As always, a gradual approach is needed as we want to focus on creating
positive associations with the ramp while moving on to providing reinforcement
for operant behaviors until the dog is perfectly comfortable going up and down
the ramp on his own.
So the first goal is to present the novice stimulus (in this case, the ramp)
in such a way that it appears less intimidating by taking a systemic, gradual
approach using small steps.
Once positive associations are made and the dog is more confident and eager to
approach the ramp, we can then get the dog to cognitively function at an
operant level. When dogs are fearful of something, they are often over
threshold, which makes it difficult for them to think straight. It is not easy
for dogs in a fearful state to follow directions, and that’s why it’s
important to get the dog to calm down by changing the underlying emotions
towards a previously potentially intimidating stimulus first.
With the dog in a calmer state of mind and eager to learn, it is, therefore,
easier to ask for behaviors and provide reinforcement for them. With positive
reinforcement, we are providing a pleasant consequence for the dog performing
a desired behavior. Soon, the behavior of going on the ramp can be put on cue.
You can use any word you want as long as you’re not saying an extra-long
sentence or similar words used for other cues, and it’s important that you
stay consistent. You can accompany the cue with a hand gesture that encourages
your dog to go up.
The dog, therefore, is not asked to climb up the ramp at once, (which may lead
to a frightening experience, even in a confident dog!), but rather climb it up
one step at a time, preferably allowing the dog to proceed at his own pace.
This step-by-step approach where gradual, successive approximations are
rewarded is known in dog training as ” shaping.”
We basically want to form positive associations with the ramp so that the dog
is no longer reluctant to approach it, but rather is eager to approach it
because it has come to represent wonderful things. The best way to form these
great associations is often with the use of high-value treats. You may have to
experiment to find what your dog loves and would do summersaults for.
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Kaiser loves cookies so a whole cookie for him is worthy of climbing up the
ramp or doing any other behaviors that he may be a bit hesitant about
performing. The cookies have a real impact on his motivation and retaining any
new behaviors he has learned.
When shaping and conditioning a dog to approach novel objects and perform new
behaviors, I like to use a clicker to mark desired behaviors, but you can
choose to use a verbal word such as “yes” followed by a treat. You can pick
one or the other.
I personally use a clicker because I love its cutting-edge precision and the
fact it lacks the unpredictability of the tone of voice. OK, OK, I also love
to use it because I attended several workshops by some awesome trainers some
years back and fell in love with this method and the results it reliably
gives. Works great for trick training and it makes dogs extra creative as they
will “try” behaviors in hopes of getting it right.
Here Kaiser is learning to walk on the ramp using a food lure (which is later
Step-By-Step Guide on How to Train Your Old Dog to Use a Ramp
You must initially prepare the training area. Keep your dog away for now. In a
quiet room (preferably with carpet) without any major distractions going on,
place the ramp in the middle of the floor, placing it level. The goal is to
present the ramp in a less frightening form, at least initially. Without the
incline of the ramp, we are looking at a flat surface that is less
Tip: You can present the ramp with several boxes or chairs on both sides,
so your dog doesn’t feel tempted to step off of it, and the day you practice
with the ramp inclined, your dog may be less hesitant.
Use caution when training your dog to use a ramp and provide him support and
assistance as needed to prevent him from jumping off or falling.
Arm yourself with your clicker (if you use it) and some bite-sized high-value
treats placed inside a treat bag. Hold several of these treats in your hand
with your clicker so that you are fast in delivering them. Call your dog into
the room and be ready to mark any investigative behaviors.
If you are using your clicker, click and treat your dog for looking at the
ramp, then walking towards the ramp, then sniffing the ramp. If you are not
using a clicker, you can use a verbal marker instead. Simply say “yes!”
followed by a treat when your dog looks at the ramp, then walks towards the
ramp, then sniffs the ramp.
You want to mark your dog for progression, not retrogression. So if your dog
was sniffing the ramp and then goes back to just looking at the ramp, don’t
click: wait it out and see if your dog goes back to sniffing again. If he
does, mark that immediately.
If your dog loses interest and never goes back to interacting with the ramp,
you may need to go back to start and start marking again for just looking at
it. You may have to encourage him initially by tossing a treat by the ramp to
emphasize that the ramp is what brings good things. Do this no more than a
couple of times though; you want your dog to approach the ramp on his own.
Increase the criteria. In other words, start asking for more. Now only click
and treat when your dog interacts with the ramp with his paws. Click for
stepping on it with one paw, then with two paws, and then three paws, and then
once all four paws are up, reward your dog with a jackpot of treats (several
treats given at once) as you praise him lavishly. Let him repeat the behavior
several times until he understands that standing on it on all fours is highly
If your dog is tentative in placing his paws on the ramp, you can encourage
this behavior temporarily by tapping on the ramp. Click and reward for one
paw, two paws, and then give a jackpot when he has all fours on it.
Increase the criteria. Now that your dog has figured out that the ramp is a
special place to walk on, it’s time to put your dog’s brain more at work. The
goal is to get your dog to walk across the whole ramp. You can use your hand
with a treat to lure him across and then feed him the treat once he has made
it across. Use the food to guide your dog just a few times.
Start to fade the food lure as we don’t want the dog to become over-dependent
on the sight of the treat. So after using the treat as a lure to get the dog
across the ramp four or five times, at some point, pretend to have the treat
in your hand, when in reality it is empty. Use your hand to guide him through,
then, once your dog has walked across the ramp, click and feed him a treat
from your other hand.
Kaiser practicing with the couch. The chairs here help prevent him from
jumping off the sides.
alexadry, all rights reserved
Once your dog walks across the ramp more and more, start adding your verbal
cue. You can say “ramp” or “hop up!” for example. Say it a few seconds before
using your hand gesture to encourage him to move forward. In my video, I will
be using “ramp” quickly followed by my hand gesture. Do this several times
until the behavior becomes fluent and your dog appears to be more confident.
Tip: If feasible, practice the behavior now outdoors, put the ramp on
grass and practice him walking on it. This helps to generalize the behavior.
If your dog is too distracted outside, you may need to take a few steps back
and use higher-value treats to motivate him. You can also take baby steps and
move the ramp closer and closer to the outside by placing it by the door that
brings him outdoor, then progress to outdoors just next to the door, and then
farther and farther perhaps closer to the car or truck.
The next step is to add a very slight incline. Increase the incline very, very
gradually. You can start with a sidewalk or step. Then, you can further
incline by placing the ramp against the couch. Use your verbal cue followed by
your hand gesture to guide him up while a helper gently holds him to prevent
him from falling or jumping up for extra security, then, once over the ramp,
give a jackpot of treats and encourage him to come down, always with the
helper assisting if you are afraid your dog may injure himself. You can also
use boxes or chairs to prevent jumping off the ramp or accidentally falling.
If your dog is tentative in climbing due to the incline, you may need to take
a few steps back and start clicking and rewarding for putting one, paw, then
two, then all four and then showing a food lure temporarily again, but fading
it again quickly. In my video, I used a food lure (cookie) a couple of times
because my dog was a bit hesitant. Then, I only used my empty hand along with
my verbal cue “ramp.”
Practice with the car/truck. Now that your dog is more confident using the
couch, you can start practicing in the same matter using the car or truck. You
want to protect all your hard work by preventing anything negative from
happening at this point, so if you have a helper, have him help assist your
dog up if necessary to prevent scary falls.
Don’t forget to lavishly praise and reward with very tasty treats. If your dog
loves car rides take him on for one so to leave a super positive impression on
his mind. Don’t forget to pat your back as well for a job well done!
The hard work has paid off: Kaiser walks up the ramp to get in the car
Tips for Buying a Good Dog Ramp
- Look for a ramp with a good gripping surface. This allows your dog more secure footing.
- Generally, the wider the ramp, the better, as it helps your dog walk with confidence.
- If you plan on using your ramp at night, you may want to look for one with reflective striping.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
© 2018 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 17, 2018:
Sounds great! Overcoming hesitancy of walking on steps/ramps is also a
confidence-building exercise. Hopefully, you have the opportunity to practice
when school is out so that there are no distractions!
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on November 17, 2018:
I got it, Adrienne. I will try using a nearby school’s stairs for training.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on November 14, 2018:
Years ago, we had a dog that definitely needed ramp help, but was terrified of
it. We tried lots of options and training, only to give up and hoist him into
the vehicle. Oh well. Thanks for sharing the tips in case we have another one
that needs this assistance!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 13, 2018:
Linda, I am on the same page. I often caught myself holding my breath when my
dog jumped in and off the car and after seeing him limping after a recent
outing, I knew the ramp was a must from now on.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 13, 2018:
Suhail, it would take a step-by-step approach as outlined in the article of
praising and rewarding your dog for interacting with the stairs, looking at
them, sniffing them, placing one paw etc..Your case may be a bit more
complicated though because you might not have metal stairs at home to practice
with in such a gradual approach. You may need super valuable treats and making
the proces extra fun and then the rest of the time not interacting with them
boring, to emphasize that the stairs are a predictor of good things.
I don’t know if you have any neighbors who can let you practice on theirs or a
place you can go often to and practice often.
Many dogs are afraid of the steel stairs due to the noise produced upon
walking on them, the feel on their feet and if they are “see-through” they can
be intimidating. It takes time to instill confidence, but it’s worth it in the
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 12, 2018:
Thanks for sharing all of the tips. They sound great. My dog enters our
vehicle on a ramp because he started to develop arthritis at quite a young
age. I much prefer to see him walking into the vehicle on the ramp than trying
to jump into it.
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on November 12, 2018:
I have a question.
My dog is OK with wooden or concrete ramps, but simply refuses to use a
metallic one like in the pictures in your article.
This seems to cause problems during our long hikes as well, because we have to
negotiate steel stairs and metal bridges on the tracks as well.
What can I do in a situation like this?