How to Train Your Blind Dog to Walk Down Stairs

How to Train Your Blind Dog to Walk Down Stairs
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon5-6 Days
General training category iconGeneral

Introduction

Your dog may have had a severe injury or any number of diseases that have stripped him of his eyesight. But that doesn’t mean you love him any less, and it shouldn’t mean he isn’t able to do as many of his usual daily activities as possible. One such hurdle many blind dogs need to overcome is stairs. If you have them in the house, you don’t want to worry he is going to fall down the stairs.

Alternatively, if you’re all snuggled up on the sofa, you want to be able to call him to give you a cuddle, no matter where he is in the house. Fortunately, teaching a blind dog to walk down the stairs isn’t as challenging as you might think. With caution and patience, you can quickly teach him to navigate the stairs without problems. 

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Defining Tasks

Ensuring your blind dog can walk down the stairs is hugely important, not just for you, but for the quality of his life. If he is unable to go up and down the stairs, he has half the space to roam around when he is home. Training him to master the stairs will also alleviate concerns about accidents and injuries.

You can train a blind dog to navigate the stairs, regardless of their age, although it may take a little longer with older dogs. Dogs are smarter than many people give them credit for, so you might be pleasantly surprised at how quickly he responds to training. There are a variety of different techniques you can try, ensuring one will work for your particular needs and requirements. So he could be bounding down the stairs in a matter of weeks!

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Getting Started

Before you begin training, ensure you have the stairs to yourself and that no child will come tearing down without warning. You will also need to get your hands on their leash and some treats to incentivize your dog. 

It is also important to come with a proactive attitude and a great deal of patience. Blind dogs are understandably afraid of plunging down stairs they cannot see, so you will need to take things slowly. 

Now you’re all prepped, it’s time for you both to head to the foot of the staircase and get to work.

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The Food & Familiarity Method

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Food & Familiarity method for How to Train Your Blind Dog to Walk Down Stairs
1

Getting comfortable

Get him comfortable with the stairs. Always start at the bottom of the stairs, you don’t want to risk an injury already. Sit on the bottom step and encourage him to play with you, and try to get him to put his feet up on the first step. You are trying to show him you are safe and comfortable on the stairs.

2

Get him to join in

Continue to play with him, but now try to encourage him to climb the first step and join you. You may need to incentivize him with a treat, so be sure to reward him with it when he clambers up onto the step with you.

3

The descent

You now need to stay low and, while playing with him, lead him back down the step. Again, you may need to use a treat to lead him. When he has successfully climbed down the step, be sure to reward him. Practice going up and down the first step like this several times until he seems comfortable.

4

Up the ante

It’s time to increase the number of steps he can manage. So just as you did before, slowly lead him up two or three steps, playing with him and rewarding him as you go, and then repeat the process slowly to get him back down the stairs.

5

The full monty

Now you just have to slowly build up the number of steps he can walk up and down. Be sure to continue praising him and sit with him on each step to show him he is safe and comfortable. It is important not to rush progress, you don’t want him to stumble be frightened, or worse, cause an injury. Aim to add a new step each day, until finally he is comfortable enough to head down on his own. But be sure to wait for him and reward him at the bottom the first few times.

The Leash Lead Method

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Leash Lead method for How to Train Your Blind Dog to Walk Down Stairs
1

Setting up

Put him on a leash. Once you are at the bottom of the stairs, ensure the leash is properly fastened as you will use this to gently guide him up and down the stairs.

2

Lead him

Slowly lead him up the first couple of steps. Using the leash, gently encourage him to follow you up the first couple of steps. Continuously praise him with words or a treat when he gets to the second step. You are showing him good things come from confronting the steps.

3

Back down

Slowly lead him back down the first couple of steps. Now you need to show him he can get back down the stairs. Just as you did before, slowly guide him down the stairs with the leash and be sure to praise and reward him when he gets to the bottom.

4

Increase the number of steps

Once he is confident going up and down the first two steps, you need to show him he is capable of going up and down more. Proceed with caution and always take it slowly to begin with. It may take days or even weeks to get him comfortable enough with upwards of ten steps and always be sure to keep up the praise.

5

Scent markers

You now want him to get down the stairs on his own. To do that, stop using the leash and put a scented product like vanilla extract or pine at the bottom and top of the stairs. This will let him know he is about to ascend or descend. Stay with him the first few times, until you are happy he can take the plunge on his own.

The Treat Per Step Method

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Treat Per Step method for How to Train Your Blind Dog to Walk Down Stairs
1

Place a treat on every step

You are going to incentivize him to master the stairs on his own, with your support and encouragement close by. You must first start by teaching him to go up the stairs.

2

Gentle encouragement

Stand in front of him and take each step slowly, encouraging him to follow you and making sure he is finding the treat each time.

3

Place treats back on the steps

Again stand in front of him, but this time encourage him to climb back down those few steps, ensuring he finds the treat each time. Encourage him only with your voice, don’t pull at his harness or collar. When he gets to the bottom step, be sure to shower him with praise.

4

Broaden his horizons

Once you are confident he can master a few steps, place treats further up the staircase and repeat the previous process until he can go up and down the stairs with ease. Continue practicing, until after several days or weeks, he can navigate up and down the staircase without problems. Then try to reduce the number of treats and praise you give him each time, start by putting a treat on every other step, and then every step in three, etc.

5

Use cues

Place a unique floor mat at the bottom and top of the stairs so he knows whether he is about to ascend or descend. Also, accompany him until you are confident he understands the cues and is comfortable navigating the steps on his own.

By James Barra

Published: 11/03/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Cyrus

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Labrador Retriever

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Two Years

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Question

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My dog always barks when we are sleeping or watching tv or talking to neighborhood i am feed up with him what work i will say to not do he does that work only

April 28, 2023

Cyrus's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, is there any form of aggression present? If there is any aggression in any areas, I recommend hiring a professional trainer, desensitizing to a basket muzzle, and responding back rather than doing the below on your own. If the barking is simply attention seeking, which may be the pattern, I suggest combining a few things in your case. You need a way to communicate with him so I suggest teaching the Quiet command from the Quiet method in the article I have linked below - don't expect this alone to work but it will be part of the puzzle for what I will suggest next. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Next, once pup understands what Quiet means you will choose an interrupter - neither too harsh nor ineffective. A Pet Convincer is one example of an interrupter. A vibration collar is another example. A pet convincer is a small canister of pressurized, unscented air that you can spray a quick puff of at the dog's side to surprise them enough to help them calm back down. (Don't use citronella and avoid spraying in the face!). In situations where you know pup will bark or is already barking (catch them before they bark if you can), command "Quiet". If they obey, reward with a treat and very calm praise. If they bark anyway or continue to bark, say "Ah Ah" firmly but calmly and give a brief correction. Repeat the correction each time they bark until you get a brief pause in the barking. When they pause, praise and reward then. The combination of communication, correction, and rewarding - with the "Ah Ah" and praise to mark their good and bad behavior with the right timing, is very important. Once pup is calmer in general after the initial training, practice exposing him a lot to the things that trigger the barking normally (make a list - even if it's long). Whenever he DOESN'T bark around something that he normally would have, calmly praise and reward him to continue the desensitization process. Rewarding barking or stopping when told Quiet is very important. That will make the biggest difference in changing the behavior long term, not just temporarily, so don't skip desensitizing and rewarding. Finally, here is an additional resource on barking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp_l9C1yT1g&list=PLAA4pob0Wl0W2agO7frSjia1hG85IyA6a&index=1 Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

May 2, 2023

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Tinkerbell

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Terrrier mix

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16 Years

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My senior dog is using the bathroom all over the house. I've tried using diapers but when I put them on her she poops out of the back of it immediately and the entire time she has it own she poops everywhere and tracks it everywhere because she is losing her sight- she does it until she manages to get it off. I need advice on other alternatives.

March 26, 2021

Tinkerbell's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Theresa, I would made an exercise pen area lined with disposable grass pads and a non-absorbent bed for her in an area of the home without carpet or rugs. www.freshpatch.com www.porchpotty.com www.doggielawn.com I am very sorry you are having such a hard time. It can be very hard when out dogs get older and are struggling physically. If you haven't already done so, be sure to speak with your vet to see if there is anything they can do to help her incontinence. Sometimes it can be improved a bit, other times it can't. I am not a vet though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

March 26, 2021


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