Why Some Dogs Are Afraid Of Stairs & Ways to Help Them Overcome It.

Some dogs develop a phobia of going up and down the stair-case. This is especially seen in puppies, elderly canines and rescue dogs. Although elderly canine may be treated with natural ways for problems such as Arthritis to overcome the resistance, for puppies being phobic to stairs is largely a behavioral and not a health issue.

 Climbing the steps may seem an uphill task to your pet pooch possibly due to a medical condition. But in some cases it could be simply behavioral issues at play for the fear. Image - Youtube.com

Climbing the steps may seem an uphill task to your pet pooch possibly due to a medical condition. But in some cases it could be simply behavioral issues at play for the fear. Image – Youtube.com

Whether your pup trembles, cries, tucks its tail between its legs or throws in the towel even before attempting to climb up or down can be pretty stressful for its owner too. You can only impart help if you possess a fair knowledge of the underlying causes. 

  1. Your puppy has seen steps for the first time: A puppy faces many things for the first time. It may enjoy some experiences, however some others may seem like big impediments.

    Try exposing the puppy to new events and socializing it from the beginning play an important role in preparing the pet to face a challenge and adjust well to new situations. Image _ pinterest

An older dog might develop fear if it has always lived in a single storey home and is made to shift into a new house with more than one floor. You will notice your dog’s dislike for the stairway as for a greater part of its life it never climbed one and did not receive any form of training in this while it was still a puppy.

  1. Your dog has now learned to fear the steps: Sadly some owners are responsible for this albeit unintentionally. Dog parents try to pose restrictions on their pets. One such restriction could be to prevent them from moving up and down from one level of the house to another. If the canine is subjected to punishment for using the stairs it will begin to fear them.

    Pet owners at time try to place a baby gate to forbid the dog from using the stairway. Eventually the canine will begin to associate all staircases with something it needs to stay away from. It will view them in a negative light.

  1. Bad experience in the past: If the four legged chap has had a negative experience with steps it will definitely get agitated at the sight of stairways. Perhaps the pooch tripped over while climbing up or down. Or it was pushed off the steps. Any such experience can have a permanent negative impact on the canine’s mind making it fear steps in general.

    Pulling your pooch whilse he is climbing down will only make it more fearful of the stairs.

  1. Climbing stairs is a painful deal: May be it is a medical condition that is stopping your dog from venturing onto the stairs. Arthritis is one major reason why dogs avoid taking the steps. Hip-dysplasia is another physical condition which will keep the pooch away from stairs. The hip joints don’t develop normally and the sufferer experiences painful arthritis of the joints and severe lameness. In puppies a congenital defect could be responsible for avoidance behavior of this sort.

    An injury too can cause pain and the pet will avoid climbing up or down.

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    How to help the dog to get rid of this Fear?

Perhaps you’ve been carrying your small dog each time you wanted it to accompany you to another level of your house. However this isn’t the solution to its fear. The only thing it’ll understand through this is that its whining can get it whatever it wants. Its about time you give it a patient lesson in mastering the climb as well the descend. But remember never to force the pooch up or down by pulling its collar or otherwise. This is highly undesirable as it will only create doubt/mistrust for the human in the canine. It can also lead to aggression in the dog as part of defence mechanism.

You can easily rid your dog of fear by following some steps.

  1. The stairway needs to be free of clutter/obstructions: The first step is to clear the stairs of anything that the dog can stumble upon and trip over. If it does fall off it will deter it further before the training begins properly.
  2. Counter conditioning: Dog trainers use counter conditioning to train an animal to display a behavior that is complete opposite of its current reaction to a stimulus. Here the negative stimulus is the staircase which makes your dog uncomfortable. But with positive reinforcement the same stimulus can elicit a positive/happy response. Use your pup’s favorite toy or treat and wave it to the pooch while you stand near the steps. Encourage it to come close to you and offer the reward in your hand once it comes to you. Also shower it with praise/affection for it to forget its fear for stairs even while standing really close to it.

You can also go up a step or two and lure your pup with dog – treats to follow you. Continue the endearing conversation with the pooch so that it doesn’t realize it climbed up a step with you and then climb back down with your pup in tow. Lavish it with lots of praise and rewards for a successful and confident attempt.

Start with one step at a time. Gradually move further up and back down the stairs. In case of a mild fear the pup may not take time to follow you. However it is advisable to go further up gradually and not try and cover the entire stairway in the initial attempts.

In the beginning you can also place it on the first step with your hands. Encourage it to come down on its own by showing it some treats. Then place it on the second step and using dog treats lure it to step down to the starting point.

This way you are desensitizing your dog by reducing/extinguishing its fearful response to the stairs that previously was responsible in causing it. Desensitization is the diminished emotional responsiveness to an aversive object by repeatedly exposing the subject to the stimulus.

How about starting the training session during your pooch’s dinner time and using a filled up food bowl to tempt it near the stairs?
Place dog-food near the stairs on day one and see if the pup gorges on it without any sign of fear. If the pooch seems worriless while eating near the stairs, the following night place its dinner on the first step. If the pooch exhibits no phobia move on to the second step. You can also stick to the first step for a few nights before moving ahead.

  1. Be Patient: It will take some days for the dog to get over its fear therefore stay consistent with the training sessions using positive reinforcement. In case your dog suffers from extreme fear then it will take a longer time perhaps many weeks for it to face the steps upfront fearlessly. Laud the pups progress at every step without expecting a major change in its attitude overnight.