Puppies and old dogs alike often struggle with getting up and down the stairs. Whether your dog is nervous, confused, or physically unable, we're revealing the reasons why our canine friends struggle with steps and useful tips to help your dog use the staircase with ease and confidence.
The stairs, like every other part of our homes, are built for humans to use. Builders consider most people's measurements and average mobility to determine how large to make every piece of our house, like the ceilings, doorways, and steps.
But then, we bring a sweet, cuddly furball in to share our home with love. While most pups emotionally adjust pretty quickly, they may not be able to physically adjust as seamlessly.
The riser, or height of a single stair, is often taller than small dog breeds, making it intimidating and physically demanding to climb the stairs. In other cases, dogs may be scared of stairs, confused by them, and aging dogs may not be able-bodied enough to manage large steps.
You don't need to be a highly certified, professional dog trainer to assist when a dog won't go up stairs. Any dog owner can also learn how to teach a dog to go down stairs using simple tricks and tools to reduce the pup's fear of stairs and physical limitations.
Read our "step-by-step" below to discover the why and how of dogs who can't figure out stairs and how you can safely help your pup use the staircase regularly.
Reasons Why Dogs Can't Figure Out Stairs
Before you can address your dog's fear of stairs, you must first do some digging to discover the reason why your dog won't go up stairs.
If you try to help your dog's fear of heights to help them up the stairs, that won't help their mobility issues.
Carefully observe your dog's behavior - here are a few things you may notice that can affect how a dog behaves toward the staircase.
1. Fear of Stair Height
Why is my dog scared of stairs? You may see your dog afraid of stairs because they are scared of the sheer size of them.
Imagine getting asked to climb or jump onto something taller than you. It's at least a little intimidating and potentially impossible.
Although dogs, pound for pound, are far better jumpers than humans, many puppies don't know the extent of their strength yet. They may not realize they can jump that high, or they may not be big or strong enough yet to be able to jump that high.
2. Fear of New Experiences
Other than a fear of heights, many dogs, especially new puppies, are a little hesitant and fearful of new situations.
As the pup's owner and fur parent, you are responsible to take care of your dog by guiding them through new experiences and giving them the confidence to take on the world.
Your approach to new stimuli for your pup is crucial to aid its emotional development.
Suppose you're a helicopter dog parent who is nervous overprotective about your dog's new experiences. In that case, your dog's ultra-sensitive senses will pick up on this, and in turn, they'll associate any new and unique experiences with fear.
Conversely, suppose you adopt a confident and positive attitude about your dog's exposure to new things. In that case, the dog becomes a more confident, well-adjusted pup that looks forward to new experiences with curiosity in place of fear.
3. Bad Experiences Mold Their Views
Dogs, like people, continually learn from the world around them. Sometimes a dog uses the stairs one day and suddenly stops the next. Why? A bad experience.
While dogs are eerily similar to people in some ways, they are still animals.
When a dog has a bad experience, they aren't very good at determining and measuring the potential for it to happen again. A dog that slips and falls on the stairs one day can't reason about the likelihood of it happening again.
Instead, a dog that hurts itself on the stairs once associates that hurt with the stairs and may begin to avoid them altogether out of fear.
4. They're Too Young
Like babies, puppies are brand-new to the world, and although they learn quickly, it cannot happen overnight.
If your new pup struggles to understand the staircase, they may be too young to comprehend and learn to climb yet.
Please wait until your pup is at least twelve weeks old before attempting to teach them the stairs. Some larger dog breeds like labs, retrievers, and Staffordshire terriers shouldn't learn the stairs until even later as they're prone to hip mobility issues, which can worsen if young pup bones are stressed unnecessarily.
5. Stair Coverings
We use plenty of materials on stairs, from slippery polished hardwood and laminate to linoleum, tiles, and carpet.
Because we don't make the stairs specifically for our furry friends, they have to awkwardly jump/hop up and down them, often at a lightning-fast speed.
With uncarpeted steps, pups may be understandably nervous about a slippery floor - it's easy for missteps to happen and potentially cause injury.
6. Hip Mobility and Medical Issues
Sometimes a dog isn't afraid of the staircase but physically unable to make their way up and down due to mobility or medical issues.
Heading up and down the staircase all day puts a lot of pressure on a dog's joints, especially their hind legs. If a dog is dealing with hip or joint issues, they may be hesitant to experience the pain or stiffness associated with stair climbing.
Here are some of the most significant physical concerns that can get in your dog's way of climbing the stairs:
- Hip or elbow dysplasia
- Arthritis and joint degeneration
- Joint trauma or injuries
Sometimes a specific injury will prevent a dog from taking the stairs, but often there is nothing "wrong." Degeneration is a natural part of the aging process.
A dog that is racing up and down the steps as a young pup will slowly lose mobility as its body ages.
Are Stairs Dangerous For a Puppy?
Some of the fears that a dog may carry about the steps are unfounded and unreasonable, but dogs do have some rational reasons to fear the stairs.
The stairs can be dangerous for puppies and older dogs alike. Pups of any age can take one wrong step and fall.
The stairs' height and size combined with a dog's fragile leg anatomy put them at more significant risk for muscle strains or sprains, broken bones, and severe ligament injuries.
Dog-Proof Tricks to Stop Your Dog Falling Down The Stairs
To keep your dog safe around the stairs, implement one or more of these methods guaranteed to increase your dog's safety.
While you can't protect your pup from all potential accidents, you can make a few simple changes to reduce the chances of one happening significantly.
Gate Your Stairs.
Baby gates aren't just handy for keeping babies off the staircase; you can keep inexperienced puppies, especially those extra-curious ones under 12 weeks old, that shouldn't climb the steps yet away from temptation.
You can use anything that's at least a few feet tall to block the stairs, but we recommend installing a proper gate that opens and closes simply and safely.
There are plenty of options suitable for outdoor stairs, too.
Line Each Step.
Carpeted stairs are relatively safe, but if your steps are slippery, they will likely give your pup some problems and majorly increase the potential for your puppy getting injured.
Line slippery wood or laminate steps with a carpeted stair-runner or rubber stair mat.
You don't need to spend a pile of money on slippery stair solutions. If you're price sensitive, pick up some non-slip stair tape and place it along the edge of your steps to keep your dog on safe footing at all times.
Lift Them Up.
The best solution for your dog's stair safety may be to lift and assist them up the stairs.
It's easy enough to pick up little dogs that are too tiny to manage big steps, but what about big dogs?
You don't need to be able to lift a 100-lb doggo with bad hips up your stairs - you'll probably need help up the stairs yourself after that.
Use a handy dog sling under your dog's hindquarters to walk up the stairs together and unload some of the weight they have to carry.
Install a Stair Ramp.
For short staircases with fewer than five steps, you can install a simple dog ramp to help your pup walk up and down the stairs with far less strain on the joints.
Older Dogs and Mobility Issues
Dog ramps aren't just for the stairs - you can use a dog ramp for bed, the couch, the car, or to get your pup on any surfaces they may not be able to reach anymore.
How to Train Your Old Dog to Use Bed Stairs
Dogs are very resilient and adaptive creatures; when they're well-motivated, of course.
Most dogs respond very well to food motivation, and we totally get it - we love to get our own treats too!
Use these steps to help your pup become familiar with a dog bed ramp.
Treat Luring Ramp Training
- Place a leash on your dog and hold it close for control. Show your pup the treat.
- Place a treat one-third of the way up the ramp.
- Encourage your dog to move up the ramp to get the treat, then slowly walk them back down to the ground.
- Place a treat two-thirds of the way up the ramp, and repeat the process.
- Continually place the treat higher until you put it on the bed at the top of the ramp and have them scale the whole ramp.
- Turn the dog around and have them walk back down to the ground.
- Practice ramp training regularly until your dog masters the skill and uses the ramp often without your prompting.
Final Notes: Help Any Dog Afraid to Go Up Stairs
Your dog and stairs don't have to be a dangerous combination. To help your dog conquer their big fear of the stairs, observe to uncover the deep-seated reasons behind their feelings and behaviors.
Ensure your stairs are relatively safe for your pup by gating when necessary, ensuring they're not slippery, and when walking the stairs isn't possible, aiding your dog with a lift.
For small and aging dogs, a few well-placed ramps can give them so much more freedom in the many years to come.