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Copper's Hot Wheels

Play time!

10 good things about a dog in a cart

Your success for putting your dog in a cart depends a lot on how strong your dog's front end is. If your dog cannot sit up well, chances are your dog will not do so well in a cart that just supports the back end. If this is the case, you should consider a model with more front end support. Most of the cart companies make some version to help varying degrees of front end problems, ranging from extra straps and counterweighting, to extra wheels and full support quad carts

Making sure your dog's feet are in good condition can go a long way too, and can even help make what seems to be a weak front end (and back ends for that matter) work better. I will hopefully soon have an article on how paw maintenance might make a big difference to some dogs. 

There's several commercial manufacturers here in the U.S. I agonized over picking the right cart for Copper. I studied them, tried to puzzle out the mechanics of one vs the other, which would be best for him. I probably made the Able Dogs List crazy with it (though they are too nice to say so and were extremly supportive and informative. Extra thanks to Nancy and Abby!). My reasoning for my choices may not be the same as anyone else's, every dog will have different needs, and different carts will suit different dogs for different reasons. In other words, all this is just my opinions and what's right for my dog may not be right for yours. 

And take what you read here with a grain of salt. I'm an amateur as well as fairly new to all this. I've only had one dog in a cart, and tried only one brand of cart. This is just the reasoning I used to make my choice and what happened since. I may be all wet, or I may give you something to think about too. 

Here's the links to some of the cart/wheelchair companies:
Doggon Wheels

K-9 Carts

Eddie's Wheels

Dogs to Go

Pet Mobile


Canines in Motion (Canada)

Dog Mobile (UK)

www.handicappedpets.com has a lot of info on carts. As for me, I can only tell you what I did for my own dog. 


Most all these carts fall into two categories: Hard seat and soft seat. Deciding between these two styles was the hardest part for me. The hard seats (such as K-9 and Eddies) have usually metal loops or hard plastic seats where the dog rests his hind end , usually covered with foam, neoprene or other cushioning. The soft seats (such as Doggon or Dewey's) are nylon or neoprene slings instead that clip to the cart frame. 

I'd been hearing about possible problems with the different styles. This really concerned me. Each manufacturer says theirs is best of course, but which one really WAS going to be best for MY dog?  I puzzled over it, tried to examine the physics and mechanics of both types of carts, and tried to make comparisons to horse carts, a design that hasn't changed much in thousands of years. 

The big problem with that comparison is a horse cart has a part that's called a singletree, a kind of pivot located between the horse and the load. When an four legged animal moves, the shoulders do not move together, but alternately. Same with the hips. This sets up a swaying effect, side to side and back and forth, up and down. This is what the top dressage riders feel when they can tell where every foot is at all times. The horse cart's singletree pivots back and forth with the horse's shoulders and helps calm some of the sway. None of the dog carts have anything comparable, nor can they. From what I can figure, there's no way to separate the pulling force (the front of the dog) from the load (the back of the dog), so there's really no way put a similiar pivot point. 

So, without a singletree, sway is part of the equation in these carts. The question is how much? In the hard seat carts, I believe the stiffness from the seat helps control some of this sway. In a soft seat cart, some of that stiffness is absent.

In a hard seat cart, it's possible that the dog is compensating more for the cart. He can't sway as much because the cart won't let him. This probably  makes these carts a little bit steadier.  The soft seat cart seems to compensate for the dog's motion more and maybe even amplifies it a bit through the frame since it's less stiff where it's attached to the dog at the seat and harness.  Think of holding a long stick, you turn your hand a little, the far end moves much further. The soft seat cart probably sways back and forth, as well as side to side more than a hard seat cart, following the dog's motion. It will probably sway more in a large cart of the same make than a small one. 

All this motion means that it's critical to balance and adjust carts well to prevent injury, regardless of type. The soft seat may have more sway, but the seat is more adjustable.  For either type of cart, the carts do affect the front ends of the dogs. It's necessary to reduce weight and motion transfer to the top of the dog's harness or yoke as much as possible, and let the wheels carry the weight, otherwise for some dogs injury can occur to the dog's shoulders, upper back, or front legs.  Since Copper's got such a fragile back, I  try to keep that top strap as far foward as possible on him, in the same spot just behind the withers where a horse wears their harness or a "forward" rider puts much of their weight. 

As far as the seats themselves, the different manufacturers, as always, think theirs is best. The hard seat companies tell you that the soft seat puts weight on soft tissue. Yes it does. But the weight is distributed over a larger area than in a hard seat, so to me that issue is moot as long as the seat fits well. It's the stiffness differences,  the resulting sway, and what that does to the dog that concerns me more. 

If you're reading this while thinking of a cart for your dog, getting the dog into the cart may be something you need to consider. With the hard seat carts, you lift the dog's back end into it. You can also do this with the soft seat carts, and that's how I do it with Copper. I put the harness on then l scoop up his back end with my forearm and just plop him in. 2 clips, and he's hitched up in seconds. It takes much longer to put on his booties. This is fine for probably most dogs. But, if you have a large dog, or problems with your back, or if for some reason your dog can't be lifted this way, the soft seat carts have clips to the seat so it can be removed.  You put the seat on separately, then you only have to lift the dog's hind end enough to clip the seat back into the cart. Of course it takes longer and isn't as simple as just plopping them in, but it's better than nothing. For us, this wasn't a consideration, the Neuro vet approved how I would be lifting his butt into it and my back can lift his hind end without a problem. 

Again, I believe a soft seat cart compensates for the dog's motion more, even though this may add to the sway. While there may be drawbacks, this is actually why I went with a soft seat style. I wanted it to use for a walker, with Copper using all four legs as much as possible for as long as possible, with as much weight on those hind legs as possible. One big point of putting him in a cart was to fight atrophy and make him work that hind end without falling. The soft seat would probably not fight him as much when he's using his hind legs. 

I think for a dog who's less mobile in back, the hard seat might be preferable, when the dog's hips won't have any problem with the stiffness. But again, that's gonna be a dog by dog decision. For Copper, who still wants to be pretty active at now 13 years old (he's an aussie after all) and has some use of his hind legs, I decided a soft seat was best.

What we got and how it's worked out:
As for manufacturer, I went with Doggon Wheels at www.doggon.com.  The Doggon cart had more adjustments than anyone else in a soft seat style, and with my belief in how critical balance and proper adjustments are for Copper's safety, this was a very attractive feature. (If I had gone with a hard seat cart, I'd have probably gone with K-9 carts for the same reason: more adjustments). It's not shipped pre-adjusted, it would probably be more difficult to ship otherwise, so I've had to mess with it a lot.  The flip side is I've used every one of those adjustments, over and over and over. The tools for it are now residing in my nightstand I've used them so much. Getting it right isn't easy or quick, but it's definitely well worth it. It's working for Copper just as I'd hoped, after a month I started seeing improvements in his strength and stamina. .Their customer service has been just amazing, helping me every step of the way and holding my hand in search of the perfect adjustments for Copper. 

Please, if you put your dog in a cart, send photos to the manufacturers to check for fit, an ill fitting cart of either type can really cause lots of problems. If you have a furry dog and take photos for the cart company to check the adjustments, it may be easier if you soak down the dog first!  The poor folks at Doggon had a tough time seeing what was going on through all of Copper's fur until I took photos of him in the cart while wet. 

Copper was still pretty sleepy and relaxed from swimming when I took this fitting photo. 
Still not quite right.....

Back to that sway again. Copper has always had a very long stride, reaching his hind feet quite far foward under him. We think it's mostly due to an unrelated old bone spur near his hip from some puppyhood accident. Even with the newer problems, he still often reaches very far foward.. Moving one hind leg that far forward while the other reaches back means his hips move back and forth quite a bit. Now with the paresis, he doesn't pick up the foot quite as quickly from the reached-back position. He's often just letting forward motion drag his foot forward from that back position, so his stride seems even a bit longer now.  This means his hips sway quite a bit, and therefore the cart sways with him. At a walk and a trot, this has been no problem. I thought he might need some padding where the front of the cart touches his sides, but after watching carefully for broken hairs for quite a while, it turns it it's not been necessary. He's having no problem with it. 

Copper at a trot: You can see here how his left hind foot comes forward and brings the wheel on that same side forward too. The cart is moving with him, not against him. Also you can just barely see his right hind foot, he's put it top down, not on the pads. This is one of the symptoms of his paresis. 

Doggon offers an option of a "walking bar" in the rear, which bends upwards to leave the dog room for a long reach (normal bar is straighter, lower, and shorter). It's good we got it right off the bat, you can see here how far he brings his leg back in a trot. Know your dog's stride and conformation quirks if at all possible, and the cart companies can help you better.

The first time Copper tried to pick up the more irregular gait of a canter (running), the cart swayed just too way too much for his taste and he quit after a few strides. A big part of the problem may have been the sway didn't match the rythmn he was trying to move with, and that may just be particular to him. I understand that usually dogs can run fine in these things. His front end was doing a true canter, but I couldn't really tell what the back end was doing. The rythmn of the sway is no problem for him in the more even gaits of walk and trot even when his hind feet fall out of the beat. Doggon is still working with me to try to solve the canter problem, they've been really great, sending me different parts to try, etc. I'm just not so sure anymore that it's solveable given Copper's individual gait mechanics and the mechanics of the cart, we'll see. While I've made more adjustments and tried different parts, it's difficult to get him to try running again, it seems he learned a lesson the first time (too smart for his own good?). We may never know if the problem's solved at this rate. But if he gives up running, that just means he won't get into trouble quite as quickly, though when he's motivated, he can sure trot awfully fast! We're gaining on that perfect adjustment at least, or as good as it gets anyway. Copper and I have been very happy with our choice. 

Sniff Patrol!

Behavioral issues, mine and his:

Copper is the original chicken dog, he had a lot of serious fear problems when I got him 5 years ago. While I've worked with him a lot and he's come a very long way, I was still worried about how he'd handle all this. 

A therapist we saw for a bit had a Dewey's cart, a soft seat cart. We put Copper in it and walked him around for a few minutes.  My concern was with his fear baggage, that a cart may panic him. It was way out of adjustment for him, so we kept him in it for just a few minutes, but he did ok, walked up and down her driveway, then went to greet her poodle like there was nothing unusual. I then knew it would be worth the investment. So, when it came time to put him in his own cart, I was pretty confident there wouldn't be any big problems. I did keep him on leash and armed myself with high octane goodies (freeze dried liver) to wave in front of his nose. In under two minutes he was on his way and never looked back. It took almost no time for him to realize he was going places again. 

We've had to relearn how to walk with each other. Just before the problem started, I had been teaching him "attention heeling". Basically I had been teaching him to heel very closely and precisely. Within the first 5 minutes in the cart, after 6 months not working on it, he offered this behavior on his own, hoping to earn a goodie. For his trouble he got knocked as he ran the wheel into my ankle.  My poor boy, trying to be good!  My poor foot too! Be warned, do NOT wear sandals when walking with a carted dog, at least at first,  you will get some practice with the quick-step. We kept our walks pretty short the first few weeks as we worked out most of the adjustments and he built up stamina. I would roll him over to check for pressure marks after every walk too, and while there was some red marks, they were even and never too bad.  I've had much worse from my own clothes that I wear all day long. Fortunately he was still shaved from his gall bladder surgery so it was easy to see. He had to learn to lag back a bit while walking with me. While he still runs the wheel into me, it's not as much now. He had to relearn some commands. It took a few tries for him to realize that "stay" still means stay, even in the cart. My habit of asking him to sit for every curb had to go out the door. Once I rethink heel position for him, I may resume training him again. 

Then I introduced my other dog, Leilah, into the mix. She's well trained, with several obedience titles. But on a casual walk you'd never know it, she reverts to her beagle blood, nose to the ground all the time. She knew I was paying a lot of attention to Copper and took full advantage of it, jerking me this way and that way to sniff out something.  Getting on her case about it constantly took all the fun out of it for all of us. So I put her on a prong collar and gave no heel commands. Now she can sniff all she wants as long as she doesn't pull. She's having more fun and it's worked quite well for all of us. 

As it's working now, I walk them both on my left as I always did before. Without being asked to heel at all, Leilah usually ends up ahead of me, sniffing everything, and Copper walks a bit behind me in a much more dignified manner. After all, he doesn't have a beagle nose. I won't use my double ended horse-rein leash for them anymore, I'm using two separate leashes. Between his cart and her prong collar, I want to be able to get them independant from each other quickly if someone has a problem.  He's learned that concrete is easier than grass. But I've encouraged his off-roading skills too, getting up and down curbs and over small rocks.  His inner mountain goat has now returned, he can now do fairly rough terrain and hills, though I keep it to a minumum for him. I think it helps his confidence though.  It backfired the other day, he tried to go over a small brick wall/planter thing while turning a corner and he rolled over.  (I wasn't paying enough attention, bad mom!) From what I've learned, most every dog will eventually flip their cart at some point, it's pretty common. I was also told that it's not as scary as it sounds, the cart frame usually keeps the dog pretty safe. And it did work that way, the cart kept Copper aligned so he didn't twist and risk his back. A quick belly rub first to assure him (he's the chickendog after all), and I was able to right him pretty quickly, no worse for wear mentally or physically. Sure stopped traffic though! The only thing we really avoid so far is stairs and deep sand. I'd prefer he avoid mud too, but he won't hear of it if he's off leash. He wouldn't hear of it before he was in a cart either. . 

I've found that he really does turn lots of heads. Some people say "poor dog", but I gotta say he's an EX-poor dog. He's a lot happier now than he was. Many more realize how much fun he's having and think it's great. A couple of people have been quite sad they didn't know about this for their own dogs, who they had put down. So far, no one's been negative though that apparently can happen. He makes most people smile. There's almost no way to go out in public with one of these things and not have someone comment. I hope to trick out the cart too once we get all the adjustments finalized, just for fun. Hodrod style. There's no reason I have to take it all more seriously than I have to. 

He's able go for his walks, play with Leilah again (now that the cart frame protects his backand keeps him upright) and he can get the local dog news from the trees and bushes.  While our daily walk is maybe 20 minutes, I now can take him out for up to two hours sometimes on weekends, with a bit of a rest out of the cart at the one hour point. It's made a big difference in the quality of his life. And he's loving it!

Update August 2004

Copper's strength in the front end has improved, as well as his stamina. Unfortunately, this has not slowed the progression of his paralysis. I've had to modify the cart a bit to accommodate these changes. He's up to a couple hours at a time in the cart. He can do some fairly long hills as long as they're not so steep that he rolls backwards too much, which happens more now that he's using the stirrups.  If he does have trouble with a hill or curb, I can help him very easily by just looping the leash through the front bend in one of the side rails and help pull him up. I've also made a few modifications just to be silly, why not. They can all be seen at:

One thing I've been doing more lately is attaching the leash to the back of the cart (between the stirrups) instead of his collar, especially on big downhills. Off leash, he seems to like going pretty fast down hill and with his selective deafness, he can get away from me pretty darn quickly. On flat ground, it gives him a measure of freedom, in his mind anyway. He seems to think he's off leash and sniffs around more, forges ahead more, etc. 

At the suggestion of someone on the Able Dogs list, I started using the command "back" when he sticks a wheel against something. He was familiar with the command already, both verbally and when I'd touch my foot to his chest, but hadn't mastered backing in the cart. He tended to end up "sitting" on the back bar. To teach him to back up in the cart properly, I started on an uphill, where gravity could help keep him rolling. I held a goodie just over his head, gave the command, and let him roll back a few steps. He'd get the goodie after just a step or two, and we worked up from that. I'm also trying teach him (and Leilah) "left" and "right", but that's not so easy since I've had a lifelong problem of keeping them straight myself, hehehe. But now, when he sticks a wheels, the commands to get out of it are "back", then "left" (or "right", hoping I have the right one). This has helped reduce how often I have to physically pull the cart around for him. 

10 Good things about a dog in a cart (besides mobility):

1) Cart gives prey (ducks, rabbits, squirrels) a little extra warning.
2) Cart gives you something to grab when the "leave it" command fails.
3) You can enforce a stay easily by just blocking a wheel with your foot.
4) You stand a slightly better chance of catching him when he's ignoring your recall command.
5) Your dog gets lots of extra schmoozing when out in public, and you meet lots of people.
6) You realize it really was worth all the noise and mess when they took months to put in those handicapped curb cuts in your area.
7) Cart holds the backside up for some grooming, and he can't sit to avoid it like he used to when fully mobile. 
8) Approaching wheels at close range motivates fully mobile beaglish dogs to quit sniffing and get moving
9) Cart protects the back from silly bouncing beaglish dogs, so more playing is allowed. 
10) Bubble gum is much easier to get off a tire than a paw. 

I'll come up with more eventually....

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Last updated 9/2/04