Mitchel R. Martin

Mitchel R. Martin is a business copywriter based in Westminster, Colo.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Home Obstacle Course for Small Dogs
Minimize jumping dangers

Imagine living in a world of giants, where nearly every object is colossal and the local terrain is treacherous. Furniture towers eight feet high. Staircase “mountains” are intimidating, with each step equal to your full height. Jumping on and off the enormous furniture and scaling staircases make for a tough day.

This is your home from the viewpoint of your small-breed dog.

Obstacles and Injuries
All small dogs love to jump down from beds and couches, but did you know that the impact of such a leap on a little dog is equivalent to that a human would face when jumping from the roof of a one-story house? Small-breed dogs jump frequently: They leap on and off furniture approximately 30 to 40 times a day, amounting to 25,000 jumps up and down in a single year. Over a typical 12-year life span, the count is staggering, equaling more than 300,000 jumps. Additionally, these numbers do not account for bounding in and out of the car, lap dives, and the occasional “banzai” leap from the back of the couch!

Stairs are an added hazard for small dogs, increasing not only the risk of falling, but also the potential for premature joint wear caused by the impact of scaling stairs. The average house-step’s riser is approximately eight inches—roughly equal to a toy breed’s standing height—and a typical home contains 12 to 18 steps between floors. Most dogs make an average 12 trips up and down the stairs each day, so your dog climbs as many as 360 steps per day, totaling more than 131,000 steps in a year and 1.5 million in a lifetime!

It is important to understand the harmful effects that furniture jumping and stair climbing have on your dog. Because dogs are quadrupeds, the force of landing ripples through their bodies in a sequence of powerful shocks. When a dog’s front feet land on a surface, the impact of her body weight is absorbed first through the forelimbs and then by her back. The hind limbs land next, absorbing the impact of the hindquarter weight and sending a final jolt to her back.

Small-breed dogs are especially prone to injuries caused by their furniture jumps. Some of the risks of that jumping include broken toenails; sprains to the legs and wrists (carpus), pad and shoulder (biceps tendonitis, lesions of the humeral head); and elbow trauma. Serious injuries, such as a subluxing patella (slipping kneecap) and necrosis (cell and tissue degeneration) of the femoral head, also can be caused by a dog standing or hopping on its hind legs. According to Deborah Gross-Saunders, of the Wizard of Paws Rehabilitation for Animals, chondrodystrophic dogs (those with long backs and short legs) risk rupturing a disk by jumping. Ms. Gross-Saunders estimates that at least half of the patients she sees for post–back surgery therapy had been injured by jumping. When treating small-breed dogs in the high-risk category, she recommends that owners eliminate jumping from the dogs’ lives—in other words, no more furniture jumps.

Preventing your dog from using stairs is next to impossible; however certain behaviors can be modified, minimizing the impact of stair use on your dog’s body. When running down the staircase, small dogs often disregard the last two or three steps. Training your dog to pause at the bottom of the staircase and sit before navigating the last step can help prevent injury and premature joint wear.

To reduce furniture jumping, training your small dog to stay off the furniture is the obvious solution: no jumping, problem solved! But, as owners of small-breed dogs know, this is easier said than done. A simple and effective way to make their home more dog-friendly is to place pet ramps and steps next to their furniture.

Veterinarians and animal rehabilitation specialists suggest the use of ramps and steps to reduce the amount of jumping in the home. Ms. Gross-Saunders also recommends them for dogs recovering from surgery for back, knee and leg injuries, who absolutely must not jump on or off any furniture. If your dog was accustomed to furniture-jumping prior to the injury, adding a ramp or step is the only solution. Pet ramps also help dogs who suffer from arthritic pain (no matter their size)—it is estimated that one in five dogs in the United States have osteoarthritis so severe that it’s almost impossible for them to get onto your sofa or bed. A simple ramp can reduce pain and give your aging or handicapped dog a new lease on life.

Dogs too small to get up or down from furniture unaided—and even uncoordinated puppies—will adapt to a new ramp in minutes. For the Yorkies in our family, pet ramps have worked best, completely eliminating jumping on and off beds and couches. Ramps also provide a “puppy playground” in the house, a source of never-ending daily entertainment. Our dogs have loads of fun romping on their ramps, and even rolling balls and other toys down them—their own game of “doggy fetch.”

Pet steps are also great. Typically less expensive than ramps, they are usually more compact and fit into smaller areas. Steps often have storage compartments, which help corral toys and other odds and ends, and some are available with wheels to assist moving them from one place to another. There are also special units made with “mini” steps to accommodate even the tiniest of breeds.

So which option is best for your small-breed dog: ramps or steps? Both are built with your pet in mind, and designed to help your small dog safely navigate furniture. Countless models are available in different shapes, styles, and colors. Ramps and stairs are constructed from a wide range of materials ranging from lightweight high-density foam, plastic and PVC tubing to plywood and hardwood. Many models are available with attractive, removable and replaceable waterproof and designer fabric coverings. Beautifully finished hardwood and carpeted models compliment any home decor.

Puppy furniture costs vary. A single carpeted step starts at about $35, while a more elaborate set of premium hardwood steps costs as much as $250. Pet ramps prices are slightly higher, ranging from about $75 to $300. If you’re even minimally handy with tools, you can construct a simple—or elaborate, if your skills allow—ramp or set of steps yourself for the cost of the materials.

Whatever option you choose, it is important to provide your dog with both a safe alternative to jumping and assistance in navigating your “home obstacle course.” Simple pet-friendly furniture-helper units will reduce home injuries, making dogs’ lives happier, healthier, and safer—and give you more years to enjoy their company.