Raise Your Paw

Our entryway is narrow but long enough to hold three dogs and one human holding three harnesses. Getting the dogs dressed for our walk is often a noisy (I’m lookin’ at you, Half Moon) yet joyful affair. I love seeing the bouncing, tail-wagging, smiling, fur-flying mass dancing around my legs.

I’d always hoped that Andy would help me get him dressed, but I wasn’t sure it would ever happen. After three episodes of his IVDD turning his back legs to jelly, I didn’t get my heart set on it. He wears a Ruffwear Webmaster harness that slides over his head, but he has to lift his paw and step into the armhole with his right front leg before it can be buckled into place. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s a monumental task for a dog who is unsteady on his rear limbs.

In our early days together, if I lifted that front leg, he would rock back on his rear limbs and collapse under the weight. Getting him dressed for a walk was difficult and frustrating for both of us. I wanted to give him as much independence as possible, not wanting to infringe on his agency over his body by “taking” his leg and lifting it into the harness, but honestly, there were times when I felt like I had no choice.

Over time, he got stronger, but his instability remained. One wrong shift of his weight and, boom, he’d sit/fall down on his bum. Andy didn’t like it, and I didn’t like it, but we worked on getting better. It doesn’t help that his front limbs have some angular limb deformity. When he stands and gazes up into my face, his front paws point east and west — the canine version of ballet’s first position.

I know this sounds like such an easy fix—just pick up his leg and put it in the hole! But it’s not that easy if I want him to move his own body through the world around him. So we practiced. Every time I donned his harness, I would think about my body position and how it affected the way he moved his body. Kneeling in front of him was no good- he was sure I would take his paw for a nail trim, so he backed up or pulled away. Standing behind him was better, but he has this endearing way of looking back over his shoulder at me and then flopping over for a belly rub. There are better times for belly rubs.

Finally, we hit on the right position for both of us. I stood with him between my feet, both of us facing forward. I slipped the harness over his head and moved the armhole into position just in front and above his right paw. I gently tapped his right forearm and encouraged him to lift his paw. Lo and behold, he lifted that leg like a champ — and stayed upright! — I slid the strap under his paw and snapped it into place on the harness. We did it!!! I was so excited I picked him up and snuggled him (while Half Moon complained vociferously about the delay in our walk…). I’m so proud of Andy (and us.)

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