Teaching a dog to go up and down stairs

Teaching a dog to go up and down stairs

Education & Training

Being able to go up and down stairs without paying any mind to the whole process is something that most able-bodied people do of course usually take for granted, but ultimately, being able to manage stairs is something that we all had to learn at some point-and the same is true for dogs.

While some dogs find it easier to learn and pick up new physical skills than others, every dog had to learn to manage stairs at some point, and they may have worked it out for themselves, been shown by their owners, or been encouraged by their dam and littermates-or a combination of all three!

Whether you intend to allow your dog into the upstairs of your home or not-or even if your home is all on one level, such as a bungalow or flat-your dog will face steps at some stage in their day to day life, either inside or outdoors-and so they will have to learn how to manage them!

In this article, we will look at how to teach either a puppy or an adult dog to safely go up and down stairs. Read on to learn more.

Age, size and conformation considerations

Generally, dogs will learn to transit stairs when they are puppies, anywhere from the age of around eight weeks old onwards. It is fairly unusual for an adult dog to not know what to do at a staircase, although not unheard of-for instance, for dogs that have always lived on a ground floor and/or that have been deliberately discouraged from jumping and climbing due to conformation problems or concerns about conditions such as hip dysplasia.

Small dog with short legs, like the Chihuahua, will of course find learning about stairs more challenging than larger breeds, and may have to be nearly fully grown in order to manage, while for larger breeds, they may be able to start successfully transiting stairs from a couple of months old.

How to begin

It is neither practical nor effective to pick up your dog’s feet and physically show them how to manage stairs, and so the best approach to take is by means of demonstration, encouragement and lots of praise. If you have a few small steps together-such as before a turn on the stairs, or between split-level floors-this can be a good place to start, but for many households, the only flight of stairs is the full-length one!

Going down for the first time is more daunting than going up too, so start by showing your pup how to go up the stairs, and leave the trip back down for later! You will need some treats, and ideally, someone to help you too.

If you walk up the stairs away from your pup, the chances are that they will want to follow you, and will get frustrated because they don’t know how. Walk just out of their reach, and look back and call them encouragingly, to try to get them to experiment with moving onto the next step. If your pup doesn’t seem sure what you are asking of them, move them up a step, then try again.

You can also use your treats to try to tempt your pup up to you, or by putting one on the edge of each step where your pup can see it from the step below but has to reach to get to it!

If your pup still doesn’t seem to be making any moves to trying to learn, again, they might not know what you want, so move back to them and encourage them to look over the edge of the next step, by putting a treat on it or placing their paws on the step.

Another adult dog or a pup that has already got to grips with steps can be helpful too, and will likely be jumping up and down the steps and demonstrating, while trying to earn a treat!

Continually offer a lot of praise and encouragement, and when your pup manages a step or makes a good attempt, give them a reward.

Climbing stairs is good exercise, and so very tiring for puppies-keep your sessions as short as just a few minutes long, to avoid overexertion.

Additionally, always supervise your pup’s attempts until they are competent at going both up and downstairs successfully, because a misstep could lead to a long tumble down, which may hurt your pup at worst, or put them off trying again in future at best. Use barricades or baby gates to block off the stairs when you cannot be there to oversee the process.

Finally, don’t be too pushy if your pup isn’t getting there-dogs learn and develop at different paces, and they might succeed in a few more days even if they appear hopeless today!

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