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.
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!
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.
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.
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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