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Can you picture walking through your front door with a new canine friend? A loyal, gentle soul, that will follow you from room to room and curl up by your feet to sleep? Perhaps your new dog has never been in a house or an apartment before, and you are excited to show him around his new home. If you have recently adopted a former racing Greyhound, or a rescue dog, then this image is probably something that you have pictured before, or perhaps your new dog has not arrived yet, and this image is fresh in your mind right now.
Bringing a new dog into your home is a special experience. Whether that dog comes from a breeder, another home, or somewhere unique, like a race track kennel, it's exciting, and it can be a little bit frightening to wonder what challenges the two of you will face. Many Greyhounds who were former racers have never seen the inside of a home, and so have never experienced many of things that we consider perfectly normal, like stairs. You will need to teach your dog how to function in his new surroundings, and how to overcome any fears that he has. Teaching your Greyhound how to go up and down stairs will be an important first step. Being able to navigate stairs is not only practical, so that you do not have to carry your seventy-pound dog up and down your staircase, it is also important for bonding with your dog. It allows your dog to follow you while you move throughout your home, and that can be very important for a new dog that is feeling a bit insecure in a new place.
In addition to sparing you back pain from carrying a seventy-pound dog up your stairs, and in addition to allowing your dog to follow you more easily throughout your home, teaching your Greyhound how to go up stairs is also important for preventing potential injuries. If your dog has never navigated stairs before and finds himself in a situation where he needs to, then he is more likely to try to jump the stairs, run up them, or grip them with his nails, which can cause him to slip. The more comfortable and confident that he is climbing your stairs, the safer and more balanced he will be on other staircases also.
Some Greyhounds are simply confused by stairs and just need to be shown what to do, others are downright afraid of them. If your dog is afraid of the stairs, then be very gentle and patient. Do not force him into climbing them before he is ready, or you run the risk of only increasing his fears. Instead, wait patiently for him to take the initiative on his own, with your encouragement and enticement, then praise him and reward him for his efforts at overcoming his fears.
Climbing stairs requires certain muscle movements, and it can take practice for your Greyhound to develop the muscle memory necessary for him to stay balanced and safe on the stairs. If your dog is struggling with gripping the stairs, or is trying to jump over stairs, then getting him a padded harness to practice in can help. When you choose a harness, look for one that has a handle for you to hold onto on the back, is padded to prevent chafing, and offers support both under his chest and under his abdomen. Many harnesses designed for elderly, disabled, Search and Rescue, or Service Dogs fit these requirements. Make sure that the harness is adjustable enough that you can fit it to your lean greyhound's build, so that it will not chafe him.
To get started you will need lots of soft, tasty treats. If your Greyhound is very food motivated then you can use his own dog food as treats. If he is a picky eater, then you will need to experiment to find out what he likes. Many dogs love real chicken, freeze-dried liver, or pieces of cheese. If you are using the 'Assist' method or your dog is unsteady on the stairs, then you will need a padded harness with a handle on the back that supports your dog under his chest and abdomen. Look for harnesses made for disabled dogs, elderly dogs, Search and Rescue dogs, or Service Dogs. Harnesses made for these types of dogs more often include padding, good support, and a handle so that you, the dog's owner, can offer assistance. If you are using the 'Entice' method then you will need lots of your dog's favorite items. Choose his favorite toys, favorite treats, and his favorite person, you. If you have another dog in your home or a family member that your dog particularly loves, then recruit their help for this as well. For all of the methods, you will need patience, kindness, a positive, encouraging attitude, and gentleness. Greyhounds often have sensitive temperaments, so your dog might need for you to be both his cheerleader and his security.
The Treat Lure Method
Go to the stairs
To begin, call your Greyhound over to the bottom of the stairs in a happy tone of voice. When he arrives, place a treat on the bottom step and encourage him to eat it.
When your dog eats the treat, praise him and place another one. Do this until he seems relaxed while next to the stairs.
Add a stair
When your dog is relaxed at the bottom of the stairs, then place one treat on the bottom stair and one on the next stair up, then encourage your dog to eat both. Do not pressure him to eat the second treat. If he seems nervous then just continue to replace the treat on the first stair until he will reach for the second stair also.
Add a third stair
When your dog will eat the treats off of both stairs, then also place a treat on the third stair, above the other two stairs. Repeat the process of praising him for eating treats off of the first two stairs, until he gains enough confidence to eat a treat off of the third stair too.
Add more stairs
When your dog will eat a treat off of the third stair, continue to add one more stair at a time, and practice on each new stair until your dog is comfortable going up that far. The first time that your dog steps onto the stairs to reach higher treats, praise him and place three more treats on that stair for him.
If your dog tries to turn around and go back down the stairs after he has eaten his treats, or to back down the stairs then let him, and if he needs help, help him down. Turning around on the stairs and going back down is good practice for going down stairs, but it can be even harder than going up. If your dog decides to go up the rest of the stairs instead of going back down, then praise him as he climbs the stairs, and when he gets to the top give him three treats, one at a time.
Practice having your dog go up the stairs, until he can walk normally to the top. When your dog can walk up the stairs normally, then practice having him go down the stairs. Do this by placing treats on the stairs, and encouraging him down one stair at a time, like you did for going up. Do this until your dog can climb down the stairs as well.
Offer extra assistance
If your dog is struggling not to fall while practicing going up and down the stairs, then you can also use a padded harness with a handle, designed to assist elderly, Search and Rescue, or disabled dogs. While your dog goes up and down the stairs, if he begins to slide or lose his footing, slightly lift up your dog by the harness's handle, to offer extra support. Try to only lift up on the handle if your dog is struggling though, so that he can still learn how to climb the stairs on his own.
The Assist Method
Choose a padded harness
To begin, purchase a padded harness for your dog. Look for one with a handle on the back, and with support straps that go under his chest and under his abdomen. To find such a harness, look for harnesses designed for Search and Rescue dogs, Service Dogs, elderly dogs, and disabled dogs. The brand Ruffwear makes one. Make sure that the harness is properly fitted and will not chafe your dog. If your dog is unfamiliar with wearing a harness, then slowly introduce it to him by letting him sniff it, and then rewarding him with treats while you gradually put it on him and then take it off again.
Place treats on every other stair going up your staircase, then call your dog over to you while he is wearing the harness.
Add more treats
When your dog comes over to you, set three treats on the bottom stair for him to eat. When he has finished eating, them, place a treat on the second stair and encourage him to eat it. Do the same thing with a third stair. Continue to place treats on the stairs until your dog is comfortable reaching up the stairs, and can reach no further without climbing up the stairs.
When your dog is comfortable reaching up the stairs, drop several treats onto the stair that is out of his reach unless he climbs the staircase a little bit, and the stair right bellow that stair. After you do this, excitedly encourage your dog with your voice to go to the treats, and when he reaches toward the lower treat, using the forward momentum of his reach, lift up on the harness handle and move him toward the stair. Do this until he can reach the treats and eat them.
Hold the harness handle
When your dog reaches the treats, hold onto the handle to stabilize him while he eats. When he finishes, drop another treat onto the stair above him, and pat the next stair and encourage him to go up it also. If he starts to move forward, then help him by lifting up on the harness handle slightly and moving him forward, until he reaches the next treat. If he wishes to continue past the next treat then keep him moving forward and reward him when he reaches the top of the stairs.
Help your dog down
If he chooses to go back down the stairs instead of climbing the rest of the way up then let him, and hold the handle to help stabilize him while he turns around or backs downward. When he reaches the bottom, praise him but do not offer him a treat, then repeat placing treats on the stairs and helping him onto the stair out of his reach. Practice this until he will initiate climbing up to that stair.
When your dog is comfortable climbing the bottom stairs to get to the treats, drop the treats on the stair that is one higher than the last stair that your dog climbed to willingly. Practice at each stair until your dog will climb to it without you lifting him by the harness handle. Continue to add stars as he improves, until your dog has made it to the top of the staircase.
When your dog reaches the top of the stairs, or if your dog chose to skip the treats on the stairs and climbed the entire staircase early on, then practice having your dog go up the stairs until he will go up with ease.
Practice going down
When your dog is comfortable climbing up the stairs, then teach him how to go back down the stairs by repeating the same process that you used to teach him how to go up them. To do this, drop treats onto the stairs, lift him up by the harness handle to assist him down, and gradually add more stairs as he becomes comfortable climbing. When he makes it to the bottom of the staircase with your help, then practice having him climb all the way down, until he is comfortable going down.
Take the harness off
When your dog is confident walking both up and down your staircase, if he is stable and will not fall, you can take the harness of off him and let him navigate the stairs on his own.
The Entice Method
Gather favorite items
To begin, gather your dog's favorite toys and treats. Place the toys and the treats along your staircase, then sit in the middle of the staircase.
Leave the items on the staircase for several days, set to the side of each stair enough so that no one will trip on them. Warn any family members or people in your home that you are doing this, so that no one will trip.
Spend time on the stairs
As much as possible, spend time sitting on the stairs, and if you have another dog that is comfortable with the stairs, then call that dog to you frequently and give him a treat when he comes. This is to encourage your dog to join you and the dog on the stairs.
Call your dog
Call your dog over to the bottom or top of the stairs from your place on the middle of the stairs. When he comes over to the top or bottom of the staircase, then toss a treat or a toy to him. Do this often to familiarize him with the stairs and to help him like them.
Reward coming over
If your dog comes over to the stairs on his own, looking for a reward, praise him and toss him a treat or a toy when he comes over.
If your dog reaches up the stairs or climbs any of the stairs to get to one of the treats, toys, your other dog, or you, then praise him enthusiastically and reward him with a treat, a toy, or by going over to him to pet him.
Practice praising your dog and rewarding him whenever he touches or climbs the stairs. When he is completely comfortable touching the stairs or climbing the lower stairs, then only reward him if he attempts to go up slightly higher than where he is currently comfortable. Continue to praise him every time that he spends time around or on the stairs though.
Play with your dog
When your dog is comfortable going up several stairs, then also begin to entice him to go up by playing with him. Play with him at the bottom of the stairs until he is very excited, then when he is excited, run to the stairs and go up them, while happily calling his name. While you are actually on the stairs, go slower to prevent slipping. If he follows you up, then lavishly praise him, and continue playing with him when he reaches the top of the stairs. Hold onto the rail while you go up the stairs, and be careful not to slip.
When your dog will go up the stairs either by chasing you up, by following the trail of items along the stairs, or by trying to get to you or your dog, then practice encouraging him back down the stairs using the same enticements. However, if you attempt to get him to chase you down the stairs, go slow while you climb down the stairs so that you and your dog will not trip, then resume your excited game when you reach the floor at the bottom of the stairs again.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 02/20/2018, edited: 01/08/2021