You should address her issues as soon as you can. Train her to do the stairs.
Having a traumatic experience while climbing stairs could certainly cause
a dog to fear them. Other traumas that could cause a fear of stairs include
slipping, falling, or being injured on them. More common reasons for a
dog's fear of stairs, however, are a lack of previous exposure, lacking the
motor coordination to navigate the stairs successfully, perceiving the
staircase as visually overwhelming, or simply having an instinctive fear
of heights. Fear of climbing stairs can also be due to joint-related pain; if
you suspect this might be the case or your dog is a senior citizen, a vet
checkup is in order. you live in a split-level home or take your dog to public places, a fear
of stairs can be problematic. Fortunately, it is one of the easier canine
fears to conquer. Because most dogs' fear involves climbing down, we'll
focus on that aspect.
Food will be used as a lure and as a reward, so have extra-special treats
on hand. Slices of hot dog, cheese, or bits of boneless boiled chicken are
all excellent choices
Be sure there are no objects near the stairs such as statues or potted plants
that could be knocked over, or things on or around the stairs (such as
kids' or dogs' toys) that could cause your dog to become startled, slip, or
fall. Years ago, when working with a client's stair-phobic dog, I did no:
realize that the upright air purifier, which sat on the lower landing, w;s
not as heavy nor as solid as it appeared. The session had been going welL
We had progressed to the point where the dog was enthusiastically
climbing down the entire staircase from the top step—until she happened
to bump the air purifier, which fell over and startled us all. Fortunately,
after moving it aside we were able to convince the dog to continue, but it
could have caused a real setback.
Stairs without a Care
Rather than placing your dog on the top step and expecting her to navigate
the entire staircase, you will be asking her to climb down a single step at
first. As long as she remains comfortable, steps will added one at a time
until she is happily climbing up and down the stairs without a care.
Read through the following instructions before you begin. As always
take your time, watch for signs of stress, and proceed at a pace at which
your dog is comfortable.
Stand with your dog at ground level, at a distance from the stairs that is
comfortable for her. Toss a treat on the floor a foot or two away from you
and say, "Get it!" Act and sound happy and enthusiastic, as though this
is a fun game. Repeat a few times, moving a few inches closer to the
staircase with each repetition, until you are tossing treats on the floor
right next to the stairs. Do a few repetitions.
Once your dog is comfortable taking treats at ground level next to the
lowest stair, it is time to take the first step—literally. Stand a few feet
back from the stairs. After your dog has eaten the last treat from ground
level, without pausing, toss a treat on to the lowest step and say, "Get it!"
Allow your dog to take the treat. Then call your dog (in a happy voice, of
course!) and reward her for coming to you. (Alternately, if your dc ;
knows touch, ask her to return to touch your hand. To teach the skill, s^;
Chapter 16.} Repeat a few times. Then, without pausing, toss a treat on
to the second step and allow your dog to take it. Again, call her and
reward her for coming. Repeat a few times. Depending on the size of
your dog, she may not actually have to climb any steps to take the initial
treats; that's fine. As you progress, she will have to use one paw, then
two, then eventually her entire body in order to reach the treat.
If your first session involves only three steps, that's fine. The goal is not
to get your dog to race down the entire staircase in as short a time as
possible, but to leave her with a positive feeling about the stairs. Do
short, daily practice sessions that end on a good note. Begin the subsequent
session a few steps below where you left off. If at any point your dog
balks and will not move, go back to a level at which she was comfortable,
do a few repetitions, then end the session.
If your dog refuses to climb the stairs to take the treats, assuming her fear
of stairs is not extreme:
gently lift your dog on to the bottom step. (If your dog is too heavy to
Lift yourself, engage the help of a friend with whom your dog is
comfortable.) With your dog on the step, stand back and enthusiastically
call her to you. Use a high-pitched, happy voice; try crouching down and
opening your arms. If necessary (and your dog is food-motivated), try
Bartering a few treats near your feet. Since navigating the lowest step is
not so frightening and you are being so enthusiastic, it is likely that your
dog will comply. Repeat until she seems confident and relaxed on the
first step, then proceed to placing her on the second step. Stop the session
before your dog has conquered just a few steps. Practice in brief, frequent
sessions, building up to her confidently navigating the entire staircase.
Tricks to try:
• Are your stairs carpeted? If not, the slippery surface might be
contributing to your dog's fear. Lay down a runner (rubber or carpet)
temporarily—or permanently, to ensure everybody's safety.
• Do your stairs have risers? If not, that open space between the steps
could be frightening your dog. Tape cardboard to the front of each
step while working through the exercises. Once your dog is
completely comfortable, the pieces can be removed gradually, one
at a time.
If you have two dogs and one is not afraid of the stairs, or you can
borrow a friend's non-stair-phobic dog, call that dog up and down
the stairs. Your dog may learn through example that the stairs are
not so daunting after all.
With practice, your dog will soon be climbing happily up and down the
stairs in your home. But do not assume that means she will be fear-free
when she encounters stairs in other locations. To help her generalize that
all staircases are not to be feared, bring along treats and practice at other
locations. Take the time to introduce your dog to new staircases gradually
as you did at home. You will find that with each new location your dog
will show less and less trepidation, until she will ultimately climb any
flight of stairs with ease
Dave and Molly
Ian Dunbar was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from I.P.D.T.A. Here's a picture of me accepting the award on his behalf.
Member of IAABC ,International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants , Member of Pet Professional Guild