Dogs and Stairs

Learn how to help a scaredy-dog get over fear of going up and down stairs. Encouragement and starting small are the keys.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #178

Give your puppy a small, tasty treat or two, then set another treat right at the edge of the step. If you’ve taught Puppalini to touch his nose to a target stick or to your hand, position the target close to the edge of the step but just a little below, so he has to extend his neck to touch it. Reward him and let him hang out for a few seconds. If he’s looking comfortable, you can either repeat the targeting or drop a couple of treats on the floor below the step. Then just wait. You can gently encourage any interest in the treats, but no physical or verbal pushing!

If Even One Stair is Too Much for Your Puppy

Usually, it takes just a minute or two for a puppy to work up the courage to climb down for the treats. If your puppy absolutely, positively doesn’t dare, skip the stairs for now and instead help him practice getting on and off a book. Increase the height one book at a time, without rushing things — make sure your puppy is happy and comfortable with each increment. For secure footing, pick large-format books, such as art books, and remember to provide traction if they’re slippery. Let your puppy take as much time as he needs; that’s especially important for extra-timid types. Once a stack 6 or 7 inches high is copacetic, go back to the staircase and try again.

Higher Ground!

When Puppalini is comfortable going up and down one step, encourage him to climb up to the second step and come down from there. Usually, by the third or fourth step, he will be going up and down confidently, and you’re good to go. Bear in mind that exceptionally steep staircases with high risers may still be challenging for puppies and small adult dogs, and that slippery stairs are dangerous for dogs and people alike. Use a non-irritating ice melter so as not to burn your dog’s paws on your outdoor steps in the wintertime. Rubber matting or traction strips may be in order for both interior and exterior stairs, especially for older dogs. And, speaking of those, a formerly confident dog who has begun to hesitate before going up or down has probably not just developed a new phobia. Pain or diminished vision might be the problem; get a vet check.

You can follow me on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini. I’m The Dog Trainer on Facebook, and you can also write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and though I can’t reply individually, I may use them as the basis for future articles. Thanks for reading.

Puppy on Stairs and Puppy on Book images from Shutterstock


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).