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

ribbon-method-1
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

ribbon-method-2
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

ribbon-method-3
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?
author-img

Written by Laurie Haggart

Published: 10/13/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Bailey
German Shepherd Siberian Husky mix
10 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Bailey
German Shepherd Siberian Husky mix
10 Months

My dog refuses to go near stairs and will not go up or down them. My family needs help teaching her to learn. What should we do?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
945 Dog owners recommended

Hello Baily, 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/ In your case I would go find some stairs that only have a couple of steps - think park, steps going outside, someone else's home, or purchasing some of those low couch/bed climbing stairs. I would create a line of treats leading up to the stairs regularly just to get pup used to approaching the steps, sniffing them, and not avoiding them anymore. Once pup is comfortable sniffing and eating treats by the couple of steps, I would also do that with the larger staircase, just leading up to the stairs. Next, I would begin putting treats on those couple of steps, so pup has to climb the steps on their own to grab the next treat up. Sprinkle those treats at least a couple of times a day for pup to find and investigate. At this point, you can start using the methods from the article I included, where you put a line of treats up the stairs. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Bailey's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Gracie
Pit bull
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Gracie
Pit bull
3 Years

Her name is Gracie and she is a rescue,the is she will not go down the basement stairs I have a 3 flat house she will go upstairs no problem. There will be time I come from work and she’s be upstairs.if you have suggestion please let me know thanks tom

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
945 Dog owners recommended

Hello Thomas, First, how is pup's eye sight, coordination, and hips? If any of those things are not good, that will make pup feel especially nervous about stairs. Are your stairs carpeted or hard floor? If they aren't carpeted, you might want to consider adding some better traction to the stairs to make slips less likely. Pup may feel unstable on a slippery surface they aren't familiar with and better traction may help. If you google carpet treads for stairs, things like this should come up in various styles: https://www.chewy.com/bungalow-flooring-waterhog-squares/dp/262268?utm_source=google-product&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=hg&utm_content=Bungalow%20Flooring&utm_term=&gclid=CjwKCAjw_JuGBhBkEiwA1xmbRcicI7zfxTb_dhQRIvZuIw5cRZOi_vyC3nT6AaUx3qZ1yOtOV_TCzhoCHb4QAvD_BwE Check out the article linked below on teaching a puppy to navigate stairs - if this is new for your dog, even though they aren't a puppy, I would approach it how you would with a nervous puppy. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/teaching-a-puppy-to-climb-stairs/ A padded harness with a handle can sometimes be a good way to get reluctant dogs to go down the first few times. The harness can help them feel like they aren't falling - which most dogs feel like they are at first. After you have assisted them a few times going down using the harness, begin to pull up on the harness less and less so they are walking completely on their own and you are just there in case they slip, then transition to them walking down ahead of you instead of always next to you, starting down with them, then stopping once they are moving well on their own and don't seem to notice when you stop. Imagine holding a kid's bike, then simply running next to the bike just in case they need the help, until you can get them going, stop running and they continue past you once proficient at it. Reward pup with lots of silliness, praise, and a couple treats when they reach the bottom. Keep things fun, instead of acting worried about them - they will feed off of your confidence and up beat attitude, or feel more worried if you seem worried. If your stairs don't have any landings and are pretty high, I recommend visiting someone or finding a park with a low set of stairs and practicing there first, with lots of fun and enthusiasm. Pay attention to pup's legs when they navigate. If it really seems like they can't do it, a visit to your vet might be in order. I am not a vet. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Gracie's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Bentley
Morkie
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Bentley
Morkie
6 Months

Afraid to go dow the stairs to the front door to go outside for potty.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
240 Dog owners recommended

Most of the time, a dog's fear of stairs is easy to overcome. The following tips can help you navigate the process: Clear off the steps. Make sure there is nothing on the stairs that your dog can trip over or knock over. Being startled in this manner could cause a major setback in your training. Distract the fearful dog. Rather than making a big deal of trying to force your dog up and down the steps, you can try tricking him into going up or down by distracting him a little. Pat your hands against your legs, talk to your dog in a happy tone and give him lots of attention. Take a step up one step and then back down as you continue the happy talk. Sneak in a few of your dog's favorite treats here and there. Next time go up a few steps and back down. For a mild phobia, you may be able to get the dog to follow you up and down a few steps without even realizing it. If you manage to get the dog on the steps, be sure to give lots of praise and some treats. Gradually work on coaxing the dog a little further each time. Take it one step at a time. An entire staircase might be too much for your dog to handle, but chances are he'll be okay with one. If his fear is mild, just pick him up and put him on the first step. Wave a few treats in front of his nose, and lure him down the step. Again, use lots of positive reinforcement to encourage him. Once he is comfortable with a single step, move him up one more, and lure him down with treats. In this manner, you should be able to gradually get your dog comfortable with navigating the stairs. Reverse it to go up the stairs. You can do the same steps as above to teach your dog to go up the stairs. Start by giving him treats when he is at the bottom of the stairs. Next, toss a few treats on the bottom step. Once he is comfortable taking those treats, toss some treats on the next step. Gradually work on getting your dog to step up the stairs to get the treats. Before you know it your dog will be navigating the stairs like a pro! Remember to be patient with your dog. Depending on his level of fear, it may take some time for him to get comfortable with the stairs. Work in short, upbeat training sessions. If your dog seems overwhelmed, frustrated, bored or stressed, it's time to end the session. Always try to end on a positive note. If you find that your dog's phobia is too intense to overcome, it's a good idea to seek help from a dog trainer or behaviorist. You can ask your vet for recommendations to help you find the right professional.

Add a comment to Bentley's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
precious
Siberian Husky
14 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
precious
Siberian Husky
14 Weeks

my puppy refuses to go up or down our apartment steps i have tried to encourage her with treats but she refuses ive also tried the blanket method and that didnt work either please help me she is getting to big to keep carrying up and down the stairs everytime she has to go outside

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
945 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tatiana, I recommend finding some small steps to start with...like 2-3 steps in your home, at a park, ect...Work on going up and down those steps with pup. I would first try placing tasty treats on the steps to lure pup up and down them, while acting very confident and happy about the activity yourself. If pup won't do that, then I would get pup really excited and chasing you nearby the steps. Once pup is very excited and running after you, run up the steps quickly with them behind you, to help them go up without overthinking it, while following you. If this works, then do this regularly until pup isn't thinking about the steps and will go up and down them confidently. Practice going up first, because going down requires more skill and can be more intimidating. Once pup is going up the small steps, move to steps in between those and your larger home steps and practice there, then move onto your regular home steps pup has been fearful of. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to precious's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Kyra
German Shepherd
21 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Kyra
German Shepherd
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
945 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

Add a comment to Kyra's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd