Is your pup scared of stairs? They’re not alone! Dr. Meghan Herron, a board-certified Veterinary Behaviorist and Gigi’s Senior Director of Behavioral Medicine Education, Research and Outreach, says being scared of going up or down the stairs can be common for dogs.
“Like many fears, it often comes from a dog not being exposed to that experience before. That’s why we often see it with rescue dogs and puppies,” she said. “They’ve never had to navigate or even seen stairs before, and for them, it’s scary!”
Typically, a dog’s fear of the stairs is about falling. “To them, a step feels like a ledge they can fall right off,” said Dr. Herron. “And to a fearful dog, going up or down the stairs takes them further away from comfort and safety.”
How to Help Your Pet
How a pet’s human responds to their fear is critical to whether they can conquer it. While some dogs never are able to master the stairs, most can get over their fear with time and training. Here are seven tips for helping your pet conquer their fear, straight from our experts at Gigi’s!
- Let it be their choice: for a dog to overcome any fear, they have to be the initiator. If we force or push the behavior, your pet could panic (and fall down the stairs), resulting in more trauma.
- Make it fun: Use positive encouragement and make doing the stairs a game, using tasty treats as a reward.
- Hands off: Never pull or tug on a dog’s leash or collar on the steps. As mentioned above, navigating the stairs has to be their choice.
- Take it slow: Help your dog conquer their fear in phases. On the first day, don’t even aim to touch the stairs, just make them the best place in the house with treats and praise. The next day, place a treat on the first step and praise them with an excited, encouraging voice when they approach it. Every day after that, move the treat to the next step – staying next to or slightly in front of them – until they’ve comfortably gone up or down all the stairs. By taking it step-by-step, you create a positive association and build their confidence.
- Adjust for your environment: If you have exposed stairs, attach a temporary cover to the back of each step, like contact paper, so your dog can’t see through them. If you have hardwood stairs, you can spread peanut butter or cheese spray on the surface of the step to encourage your dog to spend more time there.
- Use a friend: Have another dog who is comfortable with the stairs go first and model the behavior.
- Celebrate the “baby” steps: The first step typically is the hardest, especially for puppies, so praise them big for taking the (literal) first leap.
To learn more tips about managing your pet’s behavior, check out our blog for additional resources from Dr. Herron and our team at Gigi’s.