…………How do other wheelchair users with limited upper body strength manage to walk your dogs independently?A discussion between a group of disabled people with pets
My greyhound is the centre of my life. Getting him was a spontaneous decision that in many ways I probably shouldn’t have made, but I’m still deeply fond of him. Greyhounds are an immensely lazy species that require very little walking and like nothing more than to curl up and sleep. In my dog’s case, that’s on my legs, first thing in the morning – when he’ll slowly try and shuffle them off the bed to make more room for me. I had very much hoped to train him as an assistance dog, but I learned quickly that while he might have the brains for it, he doesn’t have the temperament for it – he has no desire to please anyone but himself – and I love him anyway. We’re focusing on training for the public access test as a starting point and will see where we go from there.
I can’t safely go out on my own for a number of reasons, but I still like to be as independent as possible with him, and I’m reviewing most of (I haven’t yet tried the panniers) the set-up I use when I take him on walks, although there’s always someone accompanying me.
Julius K9 harness
I use the IDC powerharness made by Julius K9, and it’s interesting how he behaves differently when walking with me in the harness to when I’m taking him on a very short walk on-lead or someone else is walking him on-lead. There, he can pull, and will decide which way he wants to go (he can be persuaded otherwise, but is stubborn). Before I got the harness (and why I got the harness), he once saw a cat and went from walking beside me on-lead to rearing and screaming, damaging my shoulder and leaving my wrist unusable for six months. With the harness on, he walks perfectly in step with me, and isn’t distracted by other dogs, cats, or squirrels. I keep my hand loosely holding onto the grip on the back of the harness, and his lead round my waist. I can’t rely solely on holding the grip on the harness because if he pulled I wouldn’t be strong enough to resist. I never take him out unmuzzled, because greyhounds have very long noses and he can get it to the ground to pick up a chicken bone if he wants, with me unable to stop him.
The powerharness is very well made, and I bought a chest pad to make it fit him better and to ensure he wouldn’t be able to pull out of it if he tried. It’s slightly padded, but I still found that it rubbed (greyhounds have very fragile skin), so I wrapped all the straps in fleece, which ensured that it worked better. This allows me to keep him secure, and means other dog owners tend to leave us alone when I’m out with him (which is a bonus).
“A jogging lead?” you wonder. “You can’t even walk!” – but this jogging lead is the best lead I’ve found for him. It seems very strong and heavy duty, and gives me another point of contact with my dog. The yellow and turquoise belt clips round my waist, and the lead attaches to a D-ring on the belt. The lead has a stretchy element and a non-stretchy element. The stretchy end of the lead clips to the harness, and the non-stretchy end clips to the belt round my waist. When I’m walking him, I usually have a hand on his harness, and the loop on the lead round my wrist. That gives me a good measure of control and security, and he walks beside me perfectly. If for some reason he were to pull, the harness would slip out of my hand, and he would be “checked” when the loop on the lead caught on my hand and wrist. The odd time that’s happened, he’s stopped immediately, but I hold it such that if he pulled I wouldn’t be injured – my grip would just go and he’d have the full length of the lead. If he fully decided to run, he would get pulled as far as the belt round my waist and no further. That gives him some stretch to lunge against, but no more before he comes up against the weight of me and my chair although thankfully this has never happened. I’ve often considered trying looping the belt round my chair somewhere instead, but haven’t tried that yet. It would be far safer for me than having him round my waist so maybe next time I take him out I’ll give it a go.
I’ve always kept my dog muzzled when out and about. I trust him completely not to hurt a person, but he’s an ex-racing greyhound who likes to chase cats, and I’m well aware that if he went for a cat I’d struggle to stop him, so keeping him muzzled avoids the problem. However, I recently had the Halti headcollar recommended as an alternative. It gently guides the head of the dog in the direction you want to go in, but it also closes over the dog’s mouth if the dog pulls, leaving the dog mouth open the rest of the time. I’m trying to coax my dog into getting used to it, but in the long run I’m hoping this will train him to walk with me better, and mean I can demuzzle him – critical given that I want to train him to pick up things I drop.
I’m working on getting him used to it at the moment by supplying him with lots of treats and letting him try it on briefly – I’m hoping this will encourage him to love the headcollar.
Dog poo grabber
Here I can’t recommend a specific brand – I did use this Pets At Home one, but after a bit one of the springs broke – and I struggled to use it because it required a strong grip. I’ve managed a temporary repair, but need to replace it in the long term. I’m hoping to replace with a folding one that my dog can carry in the panniers I’m getting for his harness.
Having this is essential to give me that bit of independence that is meeting my dog’s needs myself, instead of relying on asking someone else to do it. It makes me feel like my dog is far more my own to do jobs like this, although when the one I owned was broken, and when my grip can’t manage it, I do ask people to help with this aspect of dog ownership.
What accessories help you care for your animals? Do you have any recommendations for things I missed?
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To see the other reviews in this series, go to Adaptive Product Reviews
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