The Story

One morning in April of this year, our beloved 7 year old Great Dane, Dylan, suddenly couldn’t walk.  At just over 100 pounds, she is actually quite small for her breed.  Relatively small as she may be, getting a 100 pound animal to the vet when they can’t walk is no small feat.  Fortunately, I had just been certified in canine first aid and CPR which covered how to safely move an injured animal.  Unfortunately, we quickly came to realize these certification programs don’t seem to be catered to or tested on giant breed dogs.  Everything I had learned that sounded logical at the time, in practice turned out to be completely unrealistic.

Makeshift stretchers don’t work.  Unless you have an actual stretcher laying around your house, trying to use a wooden board or large blanket is either very difficult or completely impossible.  For starters, we do a lot of DIY projects around here…I mean A LOT, so we probably have more scrap wood laying around the house than most.  Despite this, we still didn’t have a board that was both thick, long and narrow enough to work.  It needs to be thick enough to not risk breaking under the weight of the dog, long enough to support the dog from head to hind region, and this last part was the kicker, narrow enough to get through a doorway.  We had plenty of wood that was thick enough and I even ran out a cut down a piece to the right length.  The issue came down to the narrowness.  If it was wide enough so she’d be comfortable and her long legs wouldn’t be dangling off the ends, then it wasn’t narrow enough to get through a doorway.  If it was narrow enough for the doorway, it wasn’t wide enough to keep her legs tucked onto stretcher

Here’s where my first aid training would have chimed in and said ” but you’re supposed to secure the dog to the board by wrapping an ace bandage or blanket around the dog and board together.”  Seems logical, right? Just tuck the dog’s legs in while wrapping the bandage around her and the board and they won’t dangle off the edge.  Right?  Not really.  When you actually try putting this whole “secure the dog to the board” part into practice, it’s completely unrealistic for a giant breed dog.  Here’s why:

A conscious and scared dog does not want to lie on its side.  If we were talking about a Maltese, it’d likely be easy enough to gently roll the dog onto it’s side and wrap away with the bandage.  Anyone with a giant breed dog, however, knows trying to get them to sit, lie down or roll onto its side when it doesn’t want to is a full contact sport.  Considering the last thing you want is for the dog to start thrashing and squirming for fear they may injure their spine further, forcing them over was not something we were willing to risk.  Even if you’re lucky enough to safely get the dog onto its side, or for arguments sake, say you decide to secure the dog to the board while it’s lying upright, you still have another problem.

Lifting corners of a large, thick board with a scared 100+ pound dog on it is not safe or realistic.  Maybe if we had 3 or 4 people to help with this, it would have been more doable.  We had 2 people.  We’re both in good health and pretty strong but there was no way that bandage was getting under that board.  Even trying to lift a corner once was nearly impossible.  The dog is scared, the board and dog are very heavy, so one of us is trying to steady the dog and calm her so she doesn’t squirm while the other tries to slightly lift a corner and shove part of the bandage under.  Maybe we could have done this once or twice to get a pass or two, but first aid training shows wrapping the bandage over and over again so the whole dog is secured to the board and is not at risk of falling off if they suddenly squirm.  NOT GONNA HAPPEN.  As much adrenaline as there is pumping through your body to give you the strength to do it, there’s probably more pumping through your dog.  Every time you lift one of those corners even a hair, it’s going to scare the dog and make them squirm to get off that board.  Getting a dozen or more passes of the bandage under the board just isn’t feasible.  And that’s assuming you have that much bandage or long enough blankets in your house to even attempt it.

So the board is a bust.  Now what?  We still have giant blankets to try to use as a sling.  That should work, right?  Sort of.  We did end up getting her into the car with this method but it was incredibly difficult and we really risked injuring her further but didn’t have much of a choice at the time.

dog-on-stretcherUsing a blanket as a sling will likely make the dog squirm even more.  When we slid the blanket under her entire body and tried to lift, her legs kept awkwardly bunching under her as she squirmed and it was impossible to move her.  As an alternative, we slid the blanket just under her midsection.  This she seemed comfortable with and really didn’t squirm much.  There was another problem though.

Using a blanket as a sling requires A LOT of upper body strength.  Particularly when going up and down stairs and trying to lift the dog into the car. Specifically because Great Danes have such long legs, leaving her legs hanging out of the sling, while it made her comfortable, meant we had to not only lift her body off the ground, but we also had to lift her high enough so her legs cleared whatever we were walking over.  Stairs, car doors, etc.  One thing that helped was we called ahead when taking her to the vet (and later the emergency room and after that a specialist) so they were able to have a gurney come out and meet us at the car to slide her from one to the other.  Even taking her from our living room to the car in our driveway required a break or two of setting her down to regain our arm strength.  Again, we’re healthy, fairly strong people so it got the job done ultimately but it was not easy or pretty.

help-em-up-harness-and-shoulder-strapIs there a better solution? Yes! Keep in mind, I am not a Veterinarian.  This is just what has worked for us since the methods listed above were not ideal.  You should definitely speak with your Vet, do your own research and choose methods according to what’s best for your dog and your situation.

That said, I wish I had known about the Help ‘Em Up Harness beforehand.  The specialty center where Dylan had her surgery sold them.  It is the best solution we’ve found to date.  It quite literally lets you quickly and easily pick your dog up like a large piece of luggage that has a shoulder strap.  The shoulder strap is sold separately but I highly recommend getting it along with the full harness.  As hard as it was for two of us to move our dog before, now that we have this harness and the shoulder strap, I know I can move her by myself if I have to.

We actually use it as her everyday harness when we take her for walks now because she seems more comfortable in it and it doesn’t pull at her neck at all.  As much as I loved the Gentle Leader because it was perfect for controlling large dogs safely, we’ll never use any collar or lead that controls the dog from the neck or head again.  At least not with Great Danes.  Their necks are too long and their spine is already under enough stress from their large heads.  It turned out that Dylan has Wobbler’s (which we never knew about because her spine had compensated so she had walked normally all her life) and then slipped a disk.  The combination of the two is what caused her to suddenly not be able to walk.  While there’s no way to know for sure what caused her to slip a disk, I’m certainly not going to push our luck by using anything that puts pressure on her neck or spine ever again.  For this reason, the Help ‘Em Up Harness is all she will ever wear from now on and our other Dane wears an Easy Walk Harness for the time being.

Since the surgery in April, our Dylan has made a full recovery.  There will be several posts in the future about our decision to get her the surgery, the risks involved and her recovery but it’s far too much for one post.  Until then, feel free to ask any questions you may have about how we helped our giant breed dog through recovery while she couldn’t walk.  We were very, very lucky things turned out as well as they did and it was not at all easy but we strongly believe it was worth the risks and effort involved.  We hope by sharing our experience, it may help someone else make decisions about their giant breed dog.

Have you ever had to transport a large dog who couldn’t walk on their own?  Are there other methods you used that were successful?  Comment below!