Dog Mishaps On Stairs

Learn how to train your dog to go down stairs.
By Karen B. London PhD, January 2019

In this compilation, there are a number of dogs who experience their own personal fight with gravity while attempting to negotiate a flight of stairs. There is no obvious sign that any are seriously hurt, but some of them probably ended up with some bumps and bruises. It’s easy to imagine that most were frightened by what happened. (Interestingly, some of the people sounded quite alarmed by what they saw while others seemed merely amused.)

In approximately a minute of footage, there are 13 puppies who tumble, roll or slide down the stairs. Nine of them were attempting to go down, one dog’s intended direction of travel was unclear, and three were headed up when they began to fall. (One of those going up might have made it without incident but was tripped up by another puppy who was on the way down.)

Dogs who are nervous about stairs are almost always more tentative about going down than they are about going up. That reaction, along with the fact that there are far more bloopers of dogs going down than going up, suggests that descending is where the real peril lies.

how to train a dog to go up and down stairs

Luckily, most dogs respond well if they are taught how to negotiate stairs in an step-by-step process. 

1. Begin by working with a dog in a place that has just a single step, if one is available to you. Using a smelly delicious food treat, you can lure a dog up the step, and immediately lure him back down. Do this several times in multiple short sessions until the dog is going up and down the step without any hesitation.

2. The next phase of training involves having the dog go down a few steps at a time. If you have a place with only 2-4 steps, that is ideal, but if not, you can use the bottom few steps of a flight of stairs.

3. Once the dog is comfortable with a small number of stairs, expand the number of steps until the dog can go down an entire flight of stairs on his own.

As with any training, don’t force the dog. Work slowly within the dog’s physical and emotional comfort zone to avoid falls. Be patient! Read these expanded tips on helping small dogs navigate steps.

A dog falling down stairs can lead to serious injury. Has your dog taken a spill on the stairs?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

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