In your pup's mind, the stairs are evil. One misstep and his furry butt could tumble all the way to the bottom. But if you start out slow and help your pup realize that great things await those who climb stairs, he'll be an expert climber in no time.
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Sit at the bottom of the stairs and persuade your pup to join you by making him chase you over or acting overly excited. Starting at the bottom is the best strategy, because going up a few stairs for a puppy or adult dog is a lot less terrifying than having to start from the top and look how far they have to go down. Plus, if your little guy trips, he'll probably maintain his balance rather than somersault down a step.
Feed your dog a treat and pet him as soon as he comes over. Reassuring him through food and love that the stairs are nothing but fun is important to make your little guy confident. Do this for a day or two, a few times each day.
Place your dog's food bowl near the first step, but not up against it. Keep it about 6 inches away the first day, then move it an inch closer each day. After he's eating his food near the first step for a week, he's at least desensitized to the appearance of the steps, although the fear of going up them will still persist.
Sit on the second step and have a treat ready in your hand, but don't show it to your dog yet. Don't call him by his name to join you on the steps, but instead clap your hands, slap your knees, and talk to him reassuringly and excitedly. You want your pup to wag his tail, lean forward and really think about touching his paw on that first step. If he does, immediately give him a treat and lots of praise. If he doesn't put a paw on the step willingly, try to persuade him by showing him the treat. If he still doesn't, place the treat on the very back of the first step or edge of the second step so that he has to step up to get the treat.
Continue rewarding him each time he lays a paw on one step, until two or three days have passed. Now it's time to make his journey upstairs a bit more difficult. Make him climb the entire first step for his treat. After another two days, make him climb two or three more steps and so forth until he's made it all the way to the top. The hardest part is often getting him to put that one paw on the first step. After he realizes steps mean treats, he's more likely to follow you up.
Make something wonderful happen for your pup after he reaches the top of the stairs. You want your dog to realize that the top of the stairs leads to exciting things, like a new toy, playtime or treats he almost never gets, like pieces of cheese. If your dog knows something awesome awaits him, he'll be more eager to brave the stairs in the future. Repeat the process going down the stairs so that your pup makes the ascent and descent without any fear or hesitation.
- Placing a carpeted surface on your stairs might help.
- If you have a puppy and he's wary of going up or down the steps, the American Kennel Club suggests placing his paws on the first step, then lifting his back end so that he's forced to move forward. Don't try this with an adult dog.
- Do not drag or force your dog up or down the steps. The most you should do is gently push a puppy along by lifting his back end so he'll move.