Every pet parent knows that a dog isn’t just a dog. A dog is the personification of love in a fur suit. A dog is the world’s best antidepressant and is a part of the family.
And when your family member has a disability, you will do whatever it takes to ensure that they have the best care and the happiest and most fulfilling life possible. And that means that when your dog has a disability, it’s your job to create spaces that are safe, comfortable, functional, and most importantly, fun!
Nowhere is this more important, perhaps, than in your dog’s backyard. After all, a backyard is your Fido’s fiefdom, your canine queen’s queendom. It’s where they get to romp, sniff, play in the dirt, and be their delightful doggie selves.
The good news, though, is that it’s not all that difficult to transform your backyard into a perfect paradise for your dog with a disability. We’ll show you how!
Accessibility is Accessibility, Whether You’re Human or Canine
When it comes to creating an accessible backyard space for your dog with a disability, one of the best things you can do is consider how you might make the space more functional for a human with a disability. The reality is that canine accessibility and human accessibility in a physical environment really aren’t all that different.
For example, ramps are essential for anyone, especially for people who use wheelchairs and dogs with mobility challenges or use wheelchairs to move more easily and safely between your home and the backyard. You may also need to rethink the terrain. Gravel, rocks, and sand may be difficult for a dog with a wheelchair to navigate safely, especially if your pup is tiny.
Dogs under 49 pounds, for example, typically need smaller, foam wheelchair wheels to enable them to move easily without the risk of tipping over or straining and injuring themselves. On the plus side, there is a range of wheelchair accessories that can help your pup enjoy the great outdoors in a host of environments and weather conditions. For instance, you can purchase wheelchair skis to enable your dog to romp in the snow all winter long!
Create a Sensory-friendly Space
There are many reasons why a dog may develop a disability, including a range of neurological disorders that can not only impede your pup’s mobility but may also impact their sensory perception. For that reason, you may want to invest in artificial turf for your dog’s backyard oasis because its smooth soft texture will not only make it easier for your pet to move about freely, but is also likely to be far more comfortable for their sensitive skin and paw pads.
Water in the Backyard
A water feature is also a great idea for dogs with mobility issues because they won’t have to return to the house to access cool water. A shallow pool will allow your dog to splash, play, and cool themselves while a swimming pool with an access ramp can provide a great space for fun exercise and soothing hydrotherapy. In addition, if you add the element of running water, you are going to boost the fun quotient for pups that may be visually impaired.
In regards to the above, it must be mentioned that dogs in wheelchairs must be constantly supervised around pools for their safety. Additionally, if your dog does go swimming, make sure they never bring their cart into the pool, and always make sure they wear a doggy life jacket.
As therapeutic as nature can be for humans, after all, they’re perhaps even more so for dogs who are blind or deaf. They will be able to smell, hear, and see things we humans with our limited senses can only imagine. So play up the sensory experience whenever and wherever possible based on whatever your pup’s particular sensory needs may be.
However, if you do include a water feature in your backyard, you must secure it just as you would secure it against a toddler. Your dog should never be left unsupervised or a water feature is left unsecured when there is a dog with a disability on the premises.
Be Vigilant About Safety
As much as you want to ensure that your backyard space is an area for your dog with a disability to frolic with abandonment or snooze in the shade without a care in the world, the space must be safe as well as fun.
You’ll want to be proactive in identifying and removing any potential dangers. This would include fall hazards, such as high decks and porches or railings that your pup may slip beneath and either fall through or become trapped. You will also want to confirm that there are no gaps or breaks in — or beneath — your backyard decking, as well as no nooks or crannies in the backyard area, especially near your home’s foundations, where your fur baby could get stuck.
Another important but often overlooked issue is vegetation. While fragrant flowers may be a delight for your super sniffer’s olfactory sense, a wide variety of common backyard plants are toxic and even lethal to dogs. This is why it’s critical to give your backyard landscaping a thorough inspection before you let your pup roam freely.
For safety’s sake, calling in a professional landscaper with an expertise in pet and child-proofing outdoor spaces isn’t a bad idea. They can help you identify and remove potentially hazardous species you might never have recognized with your non-professional eye.
There’s something incredibly special about loving and caring for a dog with a disability. There are few greater rewards than knowing you are giving your little companion the best and happiest life possible. This means creating environments where they can be safe, joyous, comfortable, and free. And there are few spaces more important in a dog’s life than the family backyard. The good news is that with a bit of time and effort, you can create a true backyard paradise for your dog with a disability. The key is to focus on safety, accessibility, ease of movement, and the ability for your dog to luxuriate however and to whatever extent they can in the sights, smells, and sounds of nature.
Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer and pet parent from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for animal rights and search for the truth. You can find more of her writing on her Contently.