How to Train Your Dog to Go Down Stairs

How to Train Your Dog to Go Down Stairs
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon1-2 Weeks
General training category iconGeneral

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.

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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.

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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.

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The One Step at A Time Method

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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.

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.

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.

4

Reward two steps

Present another treat at ground level. Let your dog step down to the ground, provide the treat. Repeat this exercise

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.

6

Vary rewards

Now start giving your dog a treat for negotiating two steps at a time, then three.

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.

The Makeshift Step Method

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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.

2

Reward step off

When your dog steps off, make a big fuss, praise him, and present a toy or reward with a treat.

3

Practice

Repeat until the dog is comfortable jumping off the one book.

4

Increase height

Add another book, on top of the first, put your dog on top of the books and let him step off.

5

Reward and Repeat

Reward your dog, play with him and praise him. Practice.

6

Make a game

Make several steps with books, teach your dog to jump on and off them. Make it a game.

7

Transfer to staircase

Now begin moving your dog to the bottom of the staircase to transfer his stepping down skill to the stairs.

8

Increase stairs

Gradually move him up one stair at a time until he is comfortable negotiating multiple stairs.

The Blanket and Barrier Method

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

7

Add distance

Gradually add more stairs, and move farther away from your dog so he has more of a view down the stairs.

8

Reward multiple steps

Reward your dog for negotiating multiple stairs at a time.

By Laurie Haggart

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

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Cooper

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Labrador Retriever

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7 Years

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We live in a bi-level house. From the front door you have to walk up stairs to our living room. Cooper has always been afraid to go down the stairs but he will do a little two step and then fly down them. As of Tuesday he is refusing to go down. We’ve tried everything. He went 34 hours without going outside to use the bathroom. We then had the idea to put him in his crate and carry him down. He ran right out and used the bathroom. Obviously we can’t keep doing this. How can we get him to go down the stairs? He won’t even get near them. We’ve even tried treats.

Jan. 5, 2022

Cooper's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lori, Are the stairs carpeted? If they aren't, for your sanity right now, I would purchase some of those carpet strips that can be put on just the stair steps, to give them better traction. Some dogs are afraid of the reflective surface of the stairs or of slipping and carpeting can give more confidence as pup learns to go up and down at a normal speed again. Examples of stair tread or carpet: https://www.chewy.com/bungalow-flooring-waterhog-squares/dp/262270?utm_source=google-product&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=hg&utm_content=Bungalow%20Flooring&utm_term=&gclid=Cj0KCQiAw9qOBhC-ARIsAG-rdn7CWipr2f2uFglpMQjhPI-FgVJSDQRYNyeYYQPHvgVKRNWlkV5qRgQaAqUnEALw_wcB https://www.overstock.com/Home-Garden/Stair-Treads/31447/subcat.html?featuredproduct=28527726&featuredoption=50260237&ci_sku=33581227-000-005&cnc=US&guid=fb1d9c8e-dcc4-4fb9-8031-3ea846a94bc1&sponsoredproductid=26956910&cid=295655&type=pla&targetid=pla-932317267164&track=pspla&plaosp=true&sourceoption=googleshopping&gclid=Cj0KCQiAw9qOBhC-ARIsAG-rdn6-rg611Ug64HN-n8Oxx9hoQ4_ArrV85k0smLNYnJCN7YNIOjyYphoaAqMhEALw_wcB Next, check out this article for some additional ideas. https://wagwalking.com/training/use-stairs-1 I would actually check with your vet to make sure there isn't something physical causing pup fear too, such as loss of eye sight or hip dysplasia. If there is, supporting pup's weight when he goes up and down can help give pup the security he needs to navigate the stairs. Installing a ramp on the side of the stairs can also help pup navigate them on his own, and the carpet on the stairs can help pup slip less if there isn't already carpet there. Check out the harness below as an example of something that can be used to support pup's weight by lifting up on the handle to steady pup as he goes down. This would still need to be done in combination with the training from the article. I would work on simply rewarding pup for going up and down just the bottom step right now to rebuild confidence, using the appropriate support if medically needed. Even if it's not medically needed, if pup has ever slipped on the stairs (probably from rushing up and down), then the harness and handle with your support during practice at first could still help rebuild some confidence and slow pup down so they learn not to rush. https://ruffwear.com/products/dog-harness-flagline?variant=21493600780371&currency=USD&utm_medium=product_sync&utm_source=google&utm_content=sag_organic&utm_campaign=sag_organic&utm_campaign=smart_shopping_essential_us&utm_source=cpc&utm_medium=google&gclid=Cj0KCQiAw9qOBhC-ARIsAG-rdn4KE489Ivki4-fqubKH8u5YMqkgi2VQb8EZX6tqbCOexZbMvVrIL5YaArOtEALw_wcB https://ruffwear.com/products/web-master-harness For the dog who truly needs help staying upright - this probably isn't needed for your dog right now: https://ruffwear.com/products/doubleback-harness?variant=30124605701&currency=USD&utm_medium=product_sync&utm_source=google&utm_content=sag_organic&utm_campaign=sag_organic&utm_campaign=smart_shopping_essential_us&utm_source=cpc&utm_medium=google&gclid=Cj0KCQiAw9qOBhC-ARIsAG-rdn5mKyFDgF5g7wMCP7Lqupqpln_BRj16eT70U5oPktuUAKR5VSC_uXEaAjEmEALw_wcB Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Jan. 6, 2022

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Penny

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black mouth cur

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11 Months

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She won’t go down stairs and I really need her to because we just moved into an apartment which has a flight of stairs and to be able to walk her I need her to go down stairs

Dec. 22, 2021

Penny's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 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 some dogs you also need to start with fewer starts initially. Something like bedstairs, used to help older dogs get onto furniture, which has only about three stairsteps that are carpeted, can be a good thing to practice before a large staircase. If you are able to carry pup places, choosing small staircases in public places can also work. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Dec. 22, 2021


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