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Do you remember the days when your older dog was a small puppy that could not even reach your bed? Do you remember the first time that he jumped onto your bed without your help? As your dog ages, there are certain tasks that he used to perform with ease that he can no longer do. Things like jumping on and off the bed.
Although your dog's abilities are not what they once were, that does not mean that your friend cannot enjoy some of the same pleasures that he is used to. Pleasures like snuggling with you in bed. He will simply need your help to learn how to get on and off the bed in a different way. You know the old saying, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks"? Well, in this case, you most certainly can teach your old dog a new trick, and that trick is how to use bed stairs.
Being able to use bed stairs is an important skill for an older dog. Even if your older dog is still capable of jumping on and off the bed, being able to use stairs instead could save your dog a lot of soreness and potentially even a broken bone, as his bones become more fragile. Bed stairs can also help dogs who are healing and need to be kept from jumping, or small dogs who would have to jump very high to get on and off of the bed.
While teaching this command to an older dog, it is important to take things slow. Your older dog is more likely to be intimidated by having to maneuver something new like stairs. If your older dog has fallen before that can make him more cautious about walking on new things. He may also be nervous because he simply feels more vulnerable in his aging body.
It is also important to offer your dog physical support if he seems to be struggling with his footing or balance. You can do this by standing directly beside him to offer support at his side, by reaching under him to take some of the weight off of his back legs if he is comfortable with being touched, or by outfitting him with a full body harness that has a handle and holding the handle. Look for a harness that is made specifically for lifting dogs and offering support. If your dog is unstable you may also want to purchase a bed staircase that has some form of railing on the sides or one that has a more gradual incline.
To get started you will need several items, depending on which method you choose to use. If you are using the 'Treat Luring' method, you will need lots of small, soft treats that are easy to eat. If you are using the 'Chase' method, you will need one or two toys that your dog really loves. Something that you can move around and toss to entice your dog, like a tug toy or stuffed animal, will work best. If you are using the 'Harness Assist' method, you will need a dog harness that is specially designed for assisting elderly dogs, disabled dogs, or search and rescue dogs. Something that is padded, supports your dog under his chest and abdomen, and has a handle will work well. For added safety you can use such a harness on your dog when using any of the other methods a well.
The Treat Luring Method
Show the treat
To begin, show your dog a treat and place the treat on the bottom stair of the staircase. Allow your dog to eat the treat off of the stair.
Add a treat
When your dog is comfortable with touching the stair to eat the treat, place an additional treat onto the second stair also. Allow your dog to eat the two treats off of the first and second stairs. Practice this until your dog is comfortable reaching up to the second stair.
Move up the stairs
When your dog has mastered touching two stairs, begin to add treats onto the other stairs. Add one new stair at a time, only increasing the number when your dog is completely confident walking onto the current number of stairs. If you dog attempts to go back down the stairs, gently help him turn around or back up down the stairs.
Move down the stairs
When you dog has reached the top of the stairs and is standing on the bed, repeat the process all over again, but this time start at the top of the stairs and work your way down. Be sure to offer your dog assistance or physical support if going down the stairs is hard for him.
Decrease the treats
After your dog has successfully gone up and down the stairs several times, begin to place a treat only on the bottom stair and the top stair. Do this so that he is rewarding only for climbing the entire staircase. If he struggles at first, add one treat to the middle step as well.
After he has mastered climbing up and down the staircase, practice having him climb the staircase without any treats in view. Randomly reward him when he reaches the bed or the floor.
When your dog has mastered using the staircase without any treats in view, randomly hide treats at the top of the bed stair to encourage him to practice and to build his confidence. Once your dog feels confident going up and down the bed stairs whenever he wishes to get onto the bed, you have mastered the bed stairs.
The Chase Method
Play with a toy
To begin, show your dog a favorite toy and get your dog excited about the toy by playing with him with it.
Toss onto the stairs
While you play with the toy, toss the toy onto the first step of the stairs and let your dog retrieve the toy off of the stair.
Toss it higher
Continue to play with your dog, and once your dog is comfortable with retrieving the toy off of the bottom stair, occasionally toss the toy onto the second and third stairs too, so that your dog has to climb the stairs a little to retrieve it.
Run up the stairs
Once your dog is comfortable with walking up three stairs, entice your dog to chase the toy in your hand. When your dog is going after the toy in your hand make the toy run up the entire stair case, so that the toy is waiting for him at the top.
When your dog reaches the top of stairs, praise him enthusiastically and give him the toy to play with on the bed. If your dog does not go up the stairs, add a fourth stair to your retrieval game until he is comfortable with that height. When he is comfortable try the chase game again. Be sure to assist your dog back down while he is retrieving at the height of four stairs.
Begin to go down
Once your dog has mastered going up the stairs it is time to teach him how to go back down. To do this, get your dog excited about the toy again by playing with him carefully on the bed. When he is excited about the toy, drop the toy onto the top stair for him to retrieve.
Add a second stair
Repeat the top stair retrieval until your dog is comfortable approaching the top stair. When your dog is comfortable with the top stair, toss the toy one stair lower during your play. Be sure to stay close by your dog and assist him on the stairs if he needs help.
Add more stairs
Repeat the process of adding a stair, until your dog has walked all of the way down the stairs. Once he has walked the entire way down, practice having him go up and down the stairs, rewarding him with praise and fun every time he succeeds.
The Harness Assist Method
Put the harness on
To begin, put your dog's body harness on him and make sure that it is fitted properly. When the harness is on, give him a treat to reward him for cooperating. Be sure to only use a harness that is padded, has a handle, and is made for assisting dogs. A regular walking harness could cause discomfort.
Start at the stairs
Encourage your dog over to the bottom of the bed stairs. When he arrives, give him a treat.
Lift him onto the stair
Pat the bottom stair with one hand. If your dog steps onto it or sniffs it, give him a treat. If he does not, gently lift up with the harness handle and lower him onto the bottom stair so that his front paws touch the stair. When he touches the stair praise him enthusiastically and offer him a treat. Let go of the harness afterward and allow him to step off of the stair.
Practice lifting him onto the bottom stair until he will step onto it on his own when you pat the stair.
Add a stair
Once your dog is comfortable with stepping onto the bottom stair, add another stair. To do this, pat the bottom stair until your dog steps onto it, then, while he is standing on the bottom stair, pat the second stair. If he steps onto it praise him enthusiastically and offer him a treat. If he does not step onto it gently lift him with the harness handle again and lower him onto the stair, so that his front paws are touching the second stair. Praise him and offer him a treat while he stands on the stair.
Help him down
While on the second stair, if your dog tries to go back down, help him to the ground. If he attempts to climb the rest of the stairs then allow him to, and give him five treats when he reaches the top.
Add more stairs
When your dog has mastered two stairs, begin to add more stairs. Do this by repeating the process that you did with the first two stairs but add one more stair every time he masters the current number of stairs. Do this until he has walked up the entire bed stairs, either with your help or on his own. Be sure to continue to reward him for each new accomplishment and to only add more stairs when has conquered the current number.
Go back down
Once your dog has mastered going up the stairs, it is time to teach him how to go down. To do this, repeat the same process that you did to teach him to go up the stairs. With your dog on the bed, next to the stairs, pat the top stair to encourage your dog to take a step onto it. If he does, praise him and offer him a treat. If he will not take a step then gently lift him by the harness handle and lower him onto the top stair, so that his front paws are resting on the stair. Praise him and offer him a treat while he is standing on the stair.
Help him off the stairs
After you have rewarded him, allow him to either walk the rest of the way down if he chooses or help him to back up to the bed again. Practice having him step onto the top stair until he is comfortable and will step onto it when you pat it with your hand.
Once your dog is comfortable stepping onto the top stair, gradually add more stairs, one at a time, until he can walk up and down the bed stairs with ease.
Written by Caitlin Crittenden
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 01/17/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
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