How to Train Your Dog to Go Down Stairs

Medium
1-2 Weeks
General

Introduction

The Smith family moved to a home with a basement and their 5-year-old corgi, Sam. Sam and his family had previously lived in a one-story bungalow with no basement, so Sam had no experience navigating stairs. Now, the kids' bedrooms, where he was used to sleeping, were downstairs, along with the family den with the TV, where his kids spent most of their time. His family was downstairs, and he was not! Sam was not very happy, but he seemed completely unable to go down the staircase and was constantly having to be carried down to join his “kids”, much to the family's annoyance. Sam needed help!  Fortunately, Sam’s family wanted to help, and with some minor adjustments to accommodate his fear of the stairs, some patience, and training, Sam was soon handling the stairs with ease.

Defining Tasks

Older dogs, puppies, and especially small dogs may find staircases challenging and have trouble going down them. It is more common for dogs to have trouble traveling downstairs than up. Imagine you are a little dog or a puppy.  Now, look at the height of the risers on your staircase, and imagine how you would feel looking down the staircase from the top. It can be pretty daunting and frightening. Even large dogs may have trouble walking down stairs if the steps are too narrow to accommodate the length of their bodies easily. Going downstairs can be awkward and frightening for dogs. As a pet owner, you want to help your dog to be comfortable in your home, and be able to access all areas so he can spend time with you. To allow your dog to walk safely and confidently down a staircase, you may need to make some adjustments to footing and work on developing the skill a little at a time, until your dog has the skills and confidence to negotiate the entire staircase on his own. An added benefit to knowing how to go down stairs in your home is that this skill transfers to stairs at other locations such as in parks or homes and business you may visit with your dog.

Getting Started

If your dog is having trouble going down stairs, first ensure that your dog does not have a physical or orthopedic problem that is preventing him, by causing pain or restricting his movement. You will need to take your time and have patience teaching your dog to go down stairs; never push, pull, or force your dog down the stairs, or use punishment or negative reinforcement, which will only result in further fear and aversion to the staircase. If your staircase has a hard, slippery surface such as wood, tile or linoleum, putting rubber matting or carpet runners on the stairs may help your dog to feel more comfortable with his footing and aid in training. Make sure there are no obstacles on the stairs that your dog needs to negotiate, or that could trip him up. Keep training sessions short; if your dog exhibits stress or frustration, end the session and begin again later. Have treats and toys on hand and be determined to go at your dog's pace, to make walking down the stairs a rewarding, positive experience for him.

The One Step at A Time Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Start at frist step
Start by picking up and putting your dog on the first step from the bottom of the staircase and hold a treat in front of his nose. Most dogs can negotiate one step.
Step
2
Reward first step
When your dog sets off the first step onto the ground, give him the treat. Repeat a few times a day for a couple of days.
Step
3
Add one more step
Move your dog to the second step. Hold a treat at the level of the first stair. Let your dog take one step, give him the treat.
Step
4
Reward two steps
Present another treat at ground level. Let your dog step down to the ground, provide the treat. Repeat this exercise
Step
5
Add steps
Gradually move your dog up one step at a time. Give him a reward for taking each step until he reaches the ground.
Step
6
Vary rewards
Now start giving your dog a treat for negotiating two steps at a time, then three.
Step
7
Reward for multiple steps
When your dog has mastered taking several steps at a time, start rewarding him for coming down the entire flight on his own. If your dog gets “stuck” at any point, go back to a previous step he has mastered, and practice that repeatedly until he is comfortable before proceeding gain.
Recommend training method?

The Makeshift Step Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Create a step
If your dog is especially resistant to a staircase, start by creating a step with large books like phone books or encyclopedias. Start with just one book. Put your small dog or puppy on the book.
Step
2
Reward step off
When your dog steps off, make a big fuss, praise him, and present a toy or reward with a treat.
Step
3
Practice
Repeat until the dog is comfortable jumping off the one book.
Step
4
Increase height
Add another book, on top of the first, put your dog on top of the books and let him step off.
Step
5
Reward and Repeat
Reward your dog, play with him and praise him. Practice.
Step
6
Make a game
Make several steps with books, teach your dog to jump on and off them. Make it a game.
Step
7
Transfer to staircase
Now begin moving your dog to the bottom of the staircase to transfer his stepping down skill to the stairs.
Step
8
Increase stairs
Gradually move him up one stair at a time until he is comfortable negotiating multiple stairs.
Recommend training method?

The Blanket and Barrier Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Place a blanket on stairs
Drape a blanket over a small set of stairs only 2 or 3, or over the bottom 2 or 3 stairs on your staircase.
Step
2
Place your dog on stairs
Pick your dog up, and place him on the second or third stair, while you sit on the stair below him to present a safety barrier.
Step
3
Provide positive reinforcement
Pet your dog and give him a high value treat. Reassure your dog. If your dog shows signs of fear, reassure him, do not ask him to take a step, just praise him, when he is calm, pick him up, and remove him from the stairs.
Step
4
Encourage step
Repeat several times daily. When your dog is calm sitting on the second stair on the blanket with you in front of him move yourself down one stair, and encourage your dog to come to you down one stair with a treat or favorite toy.
Step
5
Reward effort
When your dog comes down a stair, praise him and give him his reward. Remove him from the staircase. If your dog shows fear wait until he is calm, try again.
Step
6
Remove blanket
When your dog starts being comfortable coming down the blanket covered stairs to get his reward, remove the blanket and practice letting your dog come down the first two or three stairs without the blanket.
Step
7
Add distance
Gradually add more stairs, and move farther away from your dog so he has more of a view down the stairs.
Step
8
Reward multiple steps
Reward your dog for negotiating multiple stairs at a time.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
King
AnimalBreed object
8 Years
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Question
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King
AnimalBreed object
8 Years

Hello,
I have a problem with my dog adapting to coming up and down the stairs with a leash on. Unfortunately, we live on a top floor so whenever I take it down to use the bathroom, there are people that live downstairs that have dogs which is what makes training him harder. Is there any advice or suggestions I can use to better assist myself when taking him down the stairs? He always walks first so I know he needs to learn to walk next to me, but I think the barking from downstairs makes it so much harder.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
673 Dog owners recommended

Hello Alejandra, I suggest intentionally taking pup somewhere with less busy, less intimidating stairs and proactively practicing there using treat rewards in an environment where you can take your take and pup is less enclosed. See if any parks nearby have sets of concrete or grass stairs to practice on that are in a more open area. You can also purchase bed stairs are practice those at home, but additional practice will be needed once you add in the other elements of dogs and your actual stairway. When you find a location you can practice at, start with just a couple of stairs and practice going up and down small flights that are less than ten steps high. Start with the number pup can handle. Reward attempts and slowly add more stairs as you go. When pup can handle those stairs, find other, non-busy stairways to practice that have lots of stairs - to replicate your home stairs. Finally, once pup can do lots of stairs, find a stairwell that has lots of stairs AND is more enclosed. When pup can handle a stairwell that has lots of stairs and is more enclosed, practice regularly on your own stairs at times when you are not in a big hurry, so can stay patient and calm to give him extra confidence. Reward with treats for success made on your stairway for at least one month - keep a small bag or training treats or favorite kibble by the door to grab every time you tackle the stairs with pup. Try to keep your energy calm and happy while navigating the stairs right now - even though it can feel frustrating. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Uzi
AnimalBreed object
5 Months
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Question
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Uzi
AnimalBreed object
5 Months

Uzi was originally an outside dog we just got him 2 days ago and he won’t get on the furniture. What’s even worse is we live in apartments and he won’t go down the stairs to potty or let us pick him up to move him down the stairs so he ends up always pottying inside

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
673 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sam, Check out the article linked below on teaching a puppy to navigate stairs - since this is new for your dog, even though they aren't a puppy, I would approach is how you would with a nervous puppy. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/teaching-a-puppy-to-climb-stairs/ For the furniture, check out the article linked below on teaching Up - like get onto the couch, and Off, if you wish for pup to get onto the furniture. Skip down to the section on how to Teach Off and Up, since your goal is to teach him to jump up. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-train-dog-stay-off-couch/ While pup is learning how to navigate the stairs, I suggest setting up an exercise pen with a disposable real grass pad on top of a large shallow plastic container or lid - such as a large storage container lid. Set up the pen and grass pad on the balcony outside if you have one. If not, set it up in a room that can later be closed off so pup can't access it to go potty in there once you can take pup outside via the stairs. This will be a temporary potty option only to avoid accidents in the house while you are working to overcome fears, so you don't want pup to be getting used to pottying on anything in a main area of your home - since outside is the end goal. A laundry room with the appliances turned off, bathroom, guest bedroom without carpet, or walk- in closet without carpet are a couple of ideas. Disposable real grass pad brands; www.freshpatch.com www.doggielawn.com www.porchpotty.com - this option is more expensive than what I suggest for a temporary need though. You can also build your own indoor grass potty using a shallow large plastic storage container and a piece of grass sod cut to fit inside. If pup has shown any form of aggression do not do the following, or have pup wear a basket muzzle that has holes that treats can be passed through after desensitizing pup to wearing the basket muzzle first. You will need a different approach that the following one if fear aggression may be an issue, but if pup is simply shy about handling and not likely to bite when touched, in any of the following ways I suggest also desensitizing them to touch using their kibble. Use pup's daily meal kibble to do this. Gently touch an area of pup's body while feeding a piece of food. Touch an ear and give a treat. Touch a paw and give a treat. Hold his collar and give a treat. Touch his tail gently and give a treat. Touch his belly, his other paws, his chest, shoulder, muzzle and every other area very gently and give a treat each time. Keep these times calm and fun for pup. As he improves you and is fine with all other touch, you can work on getting pup used to having your hands underneath him paired with rewards each time, then get him used to slight lifts paired with rewards - very gradually working toward being able to lift him without causing fear. Again don't take this approach if pup may bite, and go at his pace and be gentle either way. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Annabelle
AnimalBreed object
9 Years
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Question
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Annabelle
AnimalBreed object
9 Years

We have a basement in our home that Annabelle is scared to go down. She works fine with stairs (there’s a second floor she goes up and down just fine) but is skittish around the basement. I’ve tried easing her towards the basement with treats but she always gets right up to the doorway and even if there’s treats on the step she’ll turn away. I try encouraging her every time she gets near the door but it’s not enough. What else can I do to ease her fears of the basement?

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Sadie
AnimalBreed object
5 Years
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Sadie
AnimalBreed object
5 Years

I adopted a 5=yr to do lab from a shelter Saturday, for now I live in a townhome but will be moving into my first house in a few weeks, I was able to get her up the stairs not knowing she would be afraid to come back down, my husband and I haven’t been able to get her down and back outside since, everyday since then several times we have been using treats and positive cheers to get her down, I’ve been able to get her once to come to the middle step. She usually will put her front paws on the first few steps leaving her bottom still on the landing. She won’t let us pick her up either. Please help I need to be able to get her down before we move. P.S new house is a one story

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Kyra
AnimalBreed object
21 Months
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Question
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Kyra
AnimalBreed object
21 Months

Kyra will go down our deck stairs. She had no problem Walking up the plank at class. She has no pain or joint problems. She will not go downstairs into the basement/family room. We have a normal size staircase with walls on both sides and well lit. I have tried treats, gently pulling. She weighs 80 pounds so carrying her is not an option!
She also won’t walk down the pool stairs. My other GS had no problem doing either😂
Thank you
Sue Twiss

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
673 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sue, The issue might be a lack of good traction in her mind if the stairs are steeper or a surface that feels slick to her, or a lack of good viability, if she struggles to see where one stair ends and another begins. It might be worth trying something like the stick on carpet treads that can be used on hard floors. Make sure you choose a color - even a neutral one, that is easy for her to see and doesn't just look like she is stepping into a black abyss. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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