My Dog Refuses to Walk Up or Down Stairs – What To Do

Reviewed By Kim •  Updated: 11/01/20 •  9 min read
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Does your dog balk at going up or down stairs? Sometimes dogs are not happy about dealing with stairs. You and your dog may avoid the stairs like the plague, or perhaps you carry your dog up and down the stairs. This can be difficult, especially if you have a larger dog. The best thing you can do is help your dog learn to go up and down the stairs on his own. We’ve done some research to help you both out of this predicament!

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Is Your Dog Having Trouble Climbing Stairs?

Why your dog refuses stairs. Stairs can be daunting for many dogs, including puppies, dogs with health issues, small dogs, etc. Maybe your dog had a bad experience, such as falling down the stairs. Of, if you have a rescue pup, maybe he was even thrown down some stairs. You just never know.

In the case of puppies, it’s a matter of literally climbing a mountain. Look at the stairs from your puppy’s perspective, and then consider how small he is and how short his little legs are! No wonder he’s not happy about going up or down the stairs.

Another reason a dog may avoid the stairs is due to joint problems or other mobility issues. In these cases, stairs can appear to be an insurmountable obstacle to your pup. Hip issues can cause muscles in your dog’s hind legs to be painful and weak. He may simply lack the strength to manage the steps. Or maybe your dog has only three legs—it can happen due to an accident, diseases where a leg need to be amputated, etc. Three legged dogs can get around just fine—in fact, they’re sometimes faster runners than their 4-legged friends! However, when it comes to managing steps, three legs could make it more challenging. Dogs may also avoid the stairs if they’ve recently been injured or have had hip/back surgery, etc.

Some dogs are simply afraid of anything new—this is a rather common issue. If you have a new dog who hasn’t dealt with stairs before, he may have no idea how to manage. Maybe you and your family, pets included, could have just moved to a new house with stairs, and a pet you’ve had for years simply doesn’t understand the concept of stairs.

These are some of the most common reasons dogs don’t fear or don’t like to up or down stairs. And who can blame them? If you’re in this situation, you may also be frustrated, as you’d like your fur baby to be able to have the run of the house and be with the family. Don’t be frustrated—we’re here to help!

First Thing to Check

If your dog afraid to go up stairs, then you’ll need to take your pup to the vet if he doesn’t want to use the stairs, especially if you suspect he may have a joint or other mobility issue. Pain, from injuries or arthritis, can make your dog not want to go up or down the stairs. Your vet will do a thorough exam to see if there’s a physical problem that causes your dog a problem with steps.

One note, if your dog won’t go up stairs suddenly, then be sure to get him examined by the vet. He could have developed arthritis, a herniated disk in his spine, have a broken bone or a sprain, etc. All of these issues could make him avoid the stairs.

Some dogs with joint problems have weak hind end muscles that make it painful and difficult to go up the stairs.

If your vet doesn’t find anything wrong, then chances are it’s fear causing your dog to avoid the stairs

How to Train Your Dog to Use the Stairs

My dog’s afraid to go up stairs. If fear’s standing in the way of your dog and the stairs, then you can use positive reinforcement training to help him learn to manage the stairs. Here’s what you can do:

1. Make sure obstacles are removed: remove anything that could take up space your dog needs to go up and down the stairs. If you have anything breakable on the stairs, now’s a good time to get that out of the way, too. Sometimes dogs are afraid of being reprimanded if they break or damage things. So make sure the way is clear for your pup and that he has enough space to go up and down safely.

2. Get acquainted: bring your fur baby over to the stairs and let him get acquainted with them. Don’t force anything—just let him sniff around. You can keep treats on hand to reward him for just checking out the stairs. It’s best to use his favorite treats as an enticement for training!

3. Use lots of praise: don’t forget to use a lot of praise and petting when your dog is checking out the steps and when he begins to try one step at a time. Positive reinforcement is all about encouraging your dog for doing the right thing. Don’t forget a healthy dose of patience, too. Dogs will learn and explore at their own pace—each dog is different. If your dog is afraid of the steps after falling, then it may take a little bit longer for him to get up the courage to try again. Just give him lots of love, praise and encouragement.

4. One step at a time gets your dog up and down: you’ll want your pup to take the steps one at a time. Some dogs have a tendency to want to get it over with in a hurry. After all, don’t you feel like that when you visit the dentist or do something else unpleasant? Your dog is the same. In their hurry to get up or down they can fall and become even more scared. So be sure your dog just takes one step at a time. Each time he manages one step, give him a treat, praise and lots of love and encouragement.

5. Start with the bottom step first: the easiest thing is to teach your dog to first manage the bottom step, as he’s going up. Your dog or puppy may stop there—that’s OK! Just give him a treat and praise him. If he gets down, let  him. Then try to encourage him back up on that step again. You might need to repeat this several times over the course of a few days; however, some dogs may quickly go on to the next step. Just let your dog make the decision of when he’s ready.

6. Never force your dog to use the steps, as this will only reinforce his fear. Let him discover the stairs at his own pace.

7. Use a leash: sometimes using a leash to guide your dog up or down the stairs can be helpful. This will only work if your dog enjoys being on the leash. For some dogs, they may gain some extra confidence if you’re on the stairs with them. Try going one step at-a-time and don’t force your dog.

Use this method until your dog is comfortable with the bottom step. Then you can begin working on the next steps going up. Once your fur baby’s managed to go up, you’ll need to reverse the process to train him to go down again. Use the same methods—only in reverse.

Be sure to work at his pace, with lots of love, treats and patience. Soon you’ll have a dog that’s happy to run up and down the stairs to be with you and your family!

Mobility Issues

Sometimes dogs are not happy about dealing with stairs if they have some type of mobility issues. If you have a smaller dog, then it’s OK to carry him up and down. However, if you have a large dog, then carrying may not be an option.

One thing you can try is to carpet the stairs. This will give your dog something to grip when going up or down the stairs. You could also consider another type of anti-slip material (like anti-slip tape) if you can’t carpet the stairs.

Ramps, with anti-slip material, can also be used for stairs that are short—they’re also great to help your dog get in and out of the car or SUV. Check out the PetSAfe UltraLite Bi-Fold Pet Ramp. This 62 inch ramp is portable and lightweight and works for dogs and cats. The ramp can hold up to 150 pounds, but only weighs 10 pounds, making a great lightweight option you can even tote in the car with you. The high traction surface provides enough texture to give your pup the assurance he can safely walk up and down the ramp. It’s also easy to clean.

Another option is to use a mobility aid such as a mobility harness. The mobility harness works to hold support your dog’s hind quarters, with a durable handle on the top of harness. You hold the handle and support your dog’s hind end as he goes up or down the stairs. Check out the Labra Veterinarian Approved Canine Sling Lift. This harness will help older dogs who may have arthritis, dogs who have had surgery or that have joint injuries. It comes in various sizes from medium to XXL, so you’re sure to find a size that comfortably supports your fur baby. The inside of the sling is made of soft fleece and the straps are easily adjustable to make it easy for you to help your pup up and down the stairs.

In this guide, we’ve covered the use of positive reinforcement training to help your dog learn to manage going up and down the stairs. Just remember to go at his pace, keep it slow so he gains confidence about using the stairs. Use treats, petting, praise and lots of patience to help your fur baby become used to taking the stairs.

If your dog has mobility issues, you might try using a ramp, carpeting the stairs or even using a mobility harness to help him go up and down. These are great options for dogs who have arthritis, have had surgery or have other mobility issues that keep them from using the stairs.

We hope you’ve found the information you and your pup need to start using the stairs together! We wish you both all the best!

Related Sources: Plos One Research Gate University of Minnesota

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Kim is a talented author, who loves animals especially dogs. She engaged in writing books and articles relating to animals a decade ago. Kim resides in Chicago with her husband and son. The family is the proud owner of a dog and a parrot (Jack and Lily). Kim wanted more than these two pets, but her husband put his foot down... She often visits elementary schools to talk to the kids about what she learned about pets and how they could learn from them.

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