Every time I see a puppy climbing stairs my mind jumps to the scene in Lady and the Tramp where Lady, as a puppy, busts out of the room she was being kept in overnight to climb the stairs and get to her humans. She stumbles a little at first before she gets the hang of climbing. My favorite part is when she gets to the top and looks down. The bottom of the stairs appears to be a mile away. As a kid I remember feeling the same way. When you’re so small, things seem much bigger and scarier.
Stairs are one of those necessary evils for those residences that have more than one level. Unfortunately for puppies, stairs are sort of their Everest; only in reverse. When climbing a mountain (or stairs in this case) reaching the top is a victory. It means the hard part is over, all downhill from here. For puppies, whose legs and in some cases their whole bodies are shorter than each individual stair, the downhill part can be quite a challenge.
Every puppy is different and the amount of time it takes before they are comfortable on the stairs varies. Some dogs appear to have no fear and will attempt to master the stairs without any help at all, even if it means tumbling down them a time or two. Others might try unsuccessfully, only to fall and be afraid of trying again. Then there are those who just flat out refuse to try at all.
For those fearful and stubborn puppies, there are a few things you can try in order to encourage them to master the stairs. First of all, never force a dog to use the stairs. It will only heighten their stress and invoke more fear. If you persist, your dog will likely become aggressive towards you.
Negative actions bring negative results. So on the contrary, positive actions will get you your positive outcome. This is the best time to break out your baby voice. Talking to your pup encouragingly and in a light friendly tone will make them think they’re doing the right thing. This attitude will have them more willing to try something new that will please you.
If you can’t coax your pooch on pleasantries alone, then adding in treats might make your mission successful. When you’re getting started, work only with two or three bottom stairs. Lure the puppy up one or two stairs with a trail of treats. If it works, repeat the process going down those same stairs. Don’t forget your over enthusiastic tone of voice and praises along the way.
If your puppy just doesn’t want to cooperate, take a break and try again a different time. Don’t spend more than ten minutes at any given time, trying to train your unwilling puppy. It will only discourage you both. Sometimes only a couple of minutes is all they can handle.
The time of day is also important. Don’t work with them on the stairs if they are tired or hungry. The best time would be right before you take them outside for a walk or to play. If they associate trying to go up the stairs with the positive experience of play afterwards, they’ll be more willing to cooperate.
Remember to be patient and positive when working with your puppy. It may take some time and a lot of frustrating moments, but before you know it you’ll have a full grown dog who sprints up the stairs after you and you’ll forget all about their fear of stairs.