By: Sara Ondrako, Certified Canine Behavior Professional
Dog strollers offer many benefits, particularly for dogs with orthopedic issues, older dogs, puppies not yet finished with their vaccinations, and even smaller dogs that may be fearful of encountering certain things on everyday walks. Strollers can be convenient contraptions that provide a safe and comfortable way for your furry friend to enjoy outdoor adventures, especially those in populated urban areas.
Learning to stroll in comfort and style does require some upfront training. Still, it can be simple to condition with lots of positive reinforcement, consistency, and breaking it down into comfortable steps for your pooch!
Choosing the Right Pet Stroller
The best dog strollers are chosen based on your individual needs and your pup's comfort based on your dog’s size, movement, the terrain you'll be covering, and other similar factors. Selecting a suitable ride for your dog requires careful review to ensure it meets your pup's needs and your preferences.
Here are some considerations to help you make an informed decision.
Set a budget before you start narrowing down your options. Keep in mind that while more expensive strollers might offer extra features, there are budget-friendly options that are still high-quality.
The Pet Gear Happy Trails Lite No Zip Pet Stroller is a more affordable option for under $100 on Chewy with a 4.6 rating. This is a zipperless option with lots of visibility for your pup.
Durability and Weight Capacity
Look for strollers made from sturdy materials like aluminum or steel frames and durable, easily washable fabrics. Read reviews from other pet owners to gauge the stroller's durability over time.
Choose a stroller with a weight limit that exceeds your dog's weight to account for any unexpected growth or additional items you might carry. While many options are available for small dogs, choices can be more limited for large dogs.
The Ibiyaya Hercules Large Pet Stroller has a reputation for being very durable. The heavy-duty stroller has a weight limit of 110 pounds to fit two medium dogs or one large dog comfortably. The Ibiyaya strollers are considered more high-end and cost more on average. Still, the puncture-free EVA and pneumatic tires are pretty nice!
Consider how easily the stroller can be folded and stored. Portability is essential for transporting and storing the stroller when not in use. Check if the stroller fits in your car trunk or storage space comfortably.
The HPZ Pet Rover Lite lives up to its name, being lightweight and folding up easily with one hand for convenient portability. One of HPZ's more affordable options, this airline-compatible foldable pet stroller is for furry friends up to 45 pounds.
Ensure the interior of the stroller is spacious enough for your dog to sit, lie down, and move around comfortably. Look for padded seats and a comfortable lining that's easy to clean. Adequate ventilation is essential, so choose a stroller with mesh windows that provide fresh air flow while keeping the bugs out.
Ease of Use
Check if the stroller is easy to assemble without complex tools. Look for features like one-hand folding mechanisms for quick setup and storage. Consider the stroller's maneuverability – wheels that swivel and a good turning radius are beneficial.
Gen7Pets Regal Plus Pet Stroller has over 1300 ratings on Amazon, averaging 4.5 stars with an ergonomic handlebar, smart zippers for easy access, and weighing only 11.5 pounds.
Some strollers have extra features like cup holders, storage baskets, and adjustable handles. Features like a canopy or rain cover provide protection from the elements.
The HPZ Pet Rover is one of the most popular picks with six different stroller combo options offering features such as a detachable carrier that's airline-approved and a one-hand quick fold and unfold. It has a high rating of 4.9 stars with over 2,500 reviews.
Research reputable brands that are known for producing high-quality pet strollers. Read customer reviews to get insights into the experiences of other pet owners with specific stroller models.
If you enjoy hiking or trails, consider a highly durable stroller built to last through rough terrain. Look for models with sturdy, all-terrain wheels. Choosing solid or air-filled tires depends on the surfaces you'll traverse most. If you are planning on jogging or running with your pup, select a jogging stroller with maneuverability specifically designed for your daily runs.
The Petique All-Terrain Jogging Stroller has an adjustable handle and removable bike tires, comes with an air pump, and can be purchased with a bike adapter to be used as a bike trailer. The Petique stroller is rated an average of 4.7 on Amazon, with over 1250 ratings.
Warranty and Customer Support
Check if the stroller has a warranty, as it reflects the manufacturer's confidence in its quality. Ensure the brand provides good customer support, just in case you encounter any issues.
You may be tempted to explore the many options available when tapping into baby strollers or baby jogger strollers. Avoid human strollers as they aren't designed for pets and lack appropriate safety features like a harness to keep your dog secure or an enclosable cover. The same goes for selecting cat-specific strollers or carriers. While some strollers are labeled for small pets in general or dog and cat use, you'll want to be sure your pup is below the weight maximum since small animals and kitties typically weigh considerably less.
Before finalizing your decision, visiting pet stores is beneficial to see and physically test different stroller models. This will give you a better sense of how they operate, fit, fold, and feel.
Familiarizing Your Dog With the Stroller
Introducing your dog to the stroller in a positive manner sets the stage for successful stroller training by tapping into their curiosity.
Let your pup be a part of the unpackaging when it arrives by encouraging them to sniff it and using a higher-pitched happy voice. At the same time, spend some time handling the stroller: move it around and adjust it while praising your pup and encouraging them to check out this new fun thing. Then, place the stroller in an area your dog can explore further on their own as they choose.
Getting Your Dog Used to the Stroller
Wheel the stroller around your home and encourage your pup to walk with you. This is just to introduce the movement first.
Lock the wheels so the stroller does not move. Encourage your pup to put their paws up on it. If they are physically able, encourage them to jump up and in the stroller on their own. Practice calling them in and out of the stroller and praise and reward them for doing so.
If it's not safe or your pup cannot jump in and out of the stroller comfortably, such as a senior dog or a dog with mobility issues, practice the sensation of lifting them with positive reinforcement several times before lifting them into the stroller for the first time.
You'll want your pup in a sitting or laying position for stability. Offer tasty treats for sitting or laying in the stroller for extended periods. Start by rewarding your dog every three seconds for a couple of rounds, then every 10 seconds, then every 25 seconds. Lift your pup out, or if it's safe, ask them to jump off the stroller and repeat a couple of times.
Start a new session with your pup and begin your session at step three, practicing once at three seconds, once at ten seconds, then once at 25 seconds. This gives your pup familiarity with the game you are playing, making it easier to advance each time.
Practice unlocking the stroller wheels and locking them back while positively reinforcing your pup for remaining in the stroller a few times. Then, slowly rock the stroller forward and back just a little to see how your dog responds to the movement. Use verbal praise to encourage them. Once you've rocked back and forth gently, offer treats as you slowly move the stroller through your home. This helps your pup get familiar with the movement so they can relax on their rides.
Choose a quiet, familiar outdoor location for your dog's first stroller walk. Securely fasten your pup in the stroller using the safety harness. Begin with brief walks and pay close attention to your dog's reactions. Positive reinforcement with treats and calm verbal encouragement will help them continue building a positive association with their new ride.
Dealing With Challenges
Ideally, your pup moves through the five conditioning steps, and you're off to a great start wheeling your best furry friend around the neighborhood. But what if it doesn't all go according to plan, and you encounter issues while conditioning your pup to the stroller, or they become anxious on the walk and want to jump out?
You can implement a few things to start if you run into hiccups training your pup to ride in a stroller:
Get Professional Help
Your best defense against discomfort when training is a positive reinforcement-based accredited dog trainer. They can help you break down the steps to move at your pup's pace to help you reach your goal of relaxing, stress-free stroller excursions.
Getting in with a professional dog trainer (or a behavior professional if your dog is severely anxious or fearful) can take some time.
Don't Force It
If your dog is resistant to getting in the stroller, being lifted in the stroller, moving outdoors, or any other point in the process, you'll want to break it down into even smaller steps for them. Find the point at which your pup is not anxious, and work with your dog at that stage to start before slowly advancing until they are comfortable with each step.
Recruit Your Veterinarian
If outdoor walks or stroller training seems really stressful to your dog, you'll want to work with a behavior professional; however, your veterinarian can also advise you on adding a supplement like Native Pet Calm Chews. Supplements can take the edge off so that a new experience like this can be more neutral or positive for your pup. Calm Chews should be given 30 to 40 minutes before a training session or walk to help your dog relax and have a more positive experience.
For more severe anxiety or fear, your veterinarian may recommend pairing a stronger medication with behavior modification to make your pup as comfortable as possible.
Gradually Expose Your Pup to Different Environments
If your dog took well to the conditioning part of stroller walks but is a little uneasy with the locations you chose for your first few strolls, try visiting the same place repeatedly before moving on to new areas.
The repetition of visiting the same location can build predictability for your pup. Gradually expanding into new environments by repeating visits to each area can help turn unsureness into curiosity. The more you practice repeat visits and build positive associations with positive reinforcement, the easier it will be to explore new environments together.
Pro Tips for an Even Smoother Stroller Transition
Hold the Stroll
Spend time not moving in the stroller and getting your dog used to simply relaxing in it for longer and longer periods. Take them to places where they can sit or lie in the comfort and safety of their stroller and observe their surroundings. This relaxation training can make your pup feel more comfortable when stationary for visiting a local brewery patio or pet-friendly restaurant so your pup isn't conditioned to always moving and being constantly stimulated when in the stroller — bringing Fido along while dog moms or dog dads enjoy a meal or socialize or a great way to involve your pup.
Work up to More Challenging Environments
Locations where potentially scary distractions happen, such as a sidewalk next to a busy city street or an area with a lot of construction noise or foot traffic, can be a lot to deal with when first getting comfortable with being in a stroller. Save the noisier and busier outings for after you've conditioned your pup well to their stroller. If you live in a busy city, take an Uber or drive to a dog-friendly park where you can get your dog comfortable with stroller rides at a distance from urban distractions first.
Protect Your Pup
Whatever the reason for turning to a stroller for walks - protect their space in their stroller by not allowing people or other animals to enter that safe space. Senior dogs with arthritis or mobility issues are more inclined to be protective of their bodies and, therefore, become more defensive when in a small, safe, confined area such as a wagon or stroller.
Keep the Positive Reinforcement Flowing
Long after training your pup to ride in a stroller, you still want to provide enjoyable experiences so they continue enjoying attending food truck Fridays with you. Bring along a long-lasting chew like a Native Pet Yak Chew to enjoy while you socialize, or offer your dog treats occasionally for observing new things as you explore new environments.
Maintain Your Pup's Stroller
Keep their ride functional, clean, and comfortable by regularly inspecting it for signs of wear and tear and checking tire pressure routinely (if applicable). Wipe your stroller down with a wet wipe after use to keep allergens and microorganisms collected on doggie paws or from the environment from affecting your dog's health over time.
In addition to maintenance for functionality and safety, you can enhance your dog's comfort by using a cozy blanket or bringing along their favorite stuffie.
Don't Skip Out on Putting in the Work
Rushing the process and moving faster than your dog is ready to move can create unnecessary stress. Having a well-behaved dog in a stroller comes from the dog being completely comfortable with the experience. Barking, whining, and lunging are not just behaviors most pet parents want to avoid in public; they are also signs that your pup is uncomfortable and needs your help. Take the time to move at the pace of your individual dog and create comfortability for excellent manners and social skills while out and about in their new ride.
Get out There and Enjoy the World Together - or at Least the Neighborhood!
Stroller riding opens up a whole new world for dogs. Senior dogs with aging bodies that can't travel as far, dogs with mobility issues, fearful dogs, and even puppies who cannot run long distances due to growing bones can all benefit from learning to ride in a dog stroller.
Each dog is unique, so adapt your approach to their personality and needs. With proper training, your four-legged companion will relish the comfort and joy of exploring the world from the cozy confines of their trusty dog stroller. So, gear up, start training, and watch your pup embrace a new way to enjoy life outdoors.