Many dogs have a hard time navigating a flight of stairs. Stairs were made for two legged creates, not four!
Certain types of stairs are scarier than others. Characteristics that typically make dogs uncomfortable:
- very slippery stairs that are made of wood or metal (sometimes adding carpet or rubber pieces add enough traction to help dogs feels comfortable)
- a wide, open gap in-between steps such as ones commonly found on decks
- steps made of see-through or metal mesh material
- very long flights or continuous flights of stairs
- We can help them overcome fear by breaking down the steps into easy to accomplish goals but you should also look into ways to mediate characteristics of your stairs that are especially "scary" for dogs.
The process - Please be sure to read the italicized tips!
- Pick up your dog and carry them down the stairs - Have someone stronger help you if the dog is too heavy for you to carry. I recommend starting on a short staircase, first.
- Put them on the last step on the bottom stair
- Let them go down just one step - I have yet to experience one dog that needed any encouragement or reassurance to go easily down one step.
- Now repeat Step 1 and Step 2 but this time go up the stairs - Dogs don't generalize "going up stairs" the same as "going down stairs". Both directions need to be taught.
- Increase and randomize the number of the steps the dog has to navigate slowly. - The next round they might have to go down two steps, then three, then maybe just one step. If you consistently increase the number of steps the dog needs to do each round they might get too stressed. Randomizing makes it fun!
- This might sound like a long process in writing but it often takes 5 - 10 minutes before dogs are running up and down the stairs with confidence.
Warning! Some dogs might be afraid of stairs if they're experiencing pain while using them (for example, if they have luxating patellas, it might be difficult for them to use the stairs because it causes pain in their legs). If you think your dog is in pain then they should see their vet immediately.
Also note that if your dog has an extreme fear of stairs and cannot accomplish going down one step without extreme signs of stress and anxiety than this is not an appropriate way to train your dog. If you do not think that you can safely and easily carry your dog up or down stairs than this is not an appropriate way to train your dog. I have used this techniques for dogs and puppies up to 40lbs but typically will use clicker training for dogs bigger than that.