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.
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.
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.