How to Train Your Blind Dog to Walk Down Stairs

Medium
5-6 Days
General

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. 

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!

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.

The Food & Familiarity Method

Effective
0 Votes
Food & Familiarity method for Walk Down Stairs
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

The Leash Lead Method

Effective
0 Votes
Leash Lead method for Walk Down Stairs
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

The Treat Per Step Method

Effective
0 Votes
Treat Per Step method for Walk Down Stairs
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Cieco
Mixed breed
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Cieco
Mixed breed
1 Year

Cieco is blind. she can walk up stairs but not down them. I have tried all three of these methods (however, the treat per step I attempted but never got off the step)to no avail. what do I do?
I want a better quality of life for her. I have noticed that in the last month, she now gets scared when I go to pick her up to go down the stairs for a walk (she is quite big). I have never dropped her nor has she fallen to be frightened.
Please help.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
97 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tracey, since Cieco is blind, the stairs are probably very scary for him. All he knows is that the ground ends. He has no concept of there being another stair only a few inches away. For all he knows it is a hundred feet down before there is something secure to stand on. When you pick him up, he might be frightened because he feels like he is going to be dropped, even though you haven't dropped him, or because he doesn't know where he is when you put him back down. What would help him the most would be a ramp. You could create a ramp wide enough for him to go up and down, on one side of your stairs. You would need to use a material with great traction for the bottom, and a rail type bar between the edge of the ramp and the rest of the stairs. The rail would help him to feel secure while he is learning to use the ramp. Rather than making the entire bottom of the ramp out of the material that provides traction, you can choose something fairly thin and nail it to the floor of a wooden ramp. You can also likely buy or contract someone to create a ramp for you. When you pick him up, tell him what you are about to do by saying something like "Up" right before you do it. This is to remove any fear of being picked up randomly, which can make him feel generally stressed when you touch him, and it's to prevent his fear from becoming worse due to unpredictability. While you are holding him or when you put him back down, give him a treat to help build his confidence. Also when you carry him make sure that you wrap one arm around his chest and one around his rear end, behind his back legs. That way he will not feel like he is leaning forward or backward and is about to fall. For most dogs falling is not a huge deal because they can see that it is only three or four feet down and can move their bodies while in the air to soften the fall. For your dog there is no concept of how high he is. He might be as high as an airplane for all he knows. He also has no control of how he lands if he falls, because he cannot judge the fall and where the ground is. I would recommend building the ramp from what you have told me. That is the most likely approach to help him, but something else that you can try, is to practice getting him comfortable being picked up by the harness handle. You would need to do this very gradually by giving him treats throughout the process, especially when you have worked up to actually picking him up for a second by the handle. When you get to the point of being able to lift him up briefly with the harness handle, then have a friend give him treats every two seconds that he remains in the air. It might be easier to let him lick peanut butter off of a spoon instead eat treats because it will be hard for him to chew while lifted. Gradually increase the amount of time that you hold him in the air for, until you have reached thirty seconds in a row. Make sure that he can breath OK while lifted, and only add more time when he is relaxed with the current amount of time. When he is comfortable being lifted completely in the air for thirty seconds, then when you get to the top of the stairs, practice having him go down the stairs by completely carrying him down using the harness handle. Go slow, and make the trip down smooth and not jerky. Have your friend reward him while you carry him. When he is comfortable with that, then gradually have him touch the stairs more and more as he improves. The end result should be him going down the stairs while you lift up on the handle. He will be doing the walking but will feel more secure because he knows you are supporting him, and preventing a fall. It's a bit like a rock climber learning to trust their harness and rope. The harness and rope are always there to prevent a fall so the person can navigate something dangerous and still feel safe. You are his safety net. With this approach he will probably still never be able to navigate the stairs without your help holding the handle a bit, but it might remove the stress of the stairs and can save your back from having to carry him. It also might be less scary for him in the long run because he is less disoriented having walked somewhere himself. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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