Many different dogs have fears of stairs. Some are afraid of the steps going up, some of them are fearful when they see a stairway in a house and its dark as if they are hiding. It can be difficult to understand what your pet is thinking when it acts out in an extreme manner like jumping, whining and barking etc. The article will talk about canine fear, fear complexes and how your dog can overcome its fear of stairs through proper behavioural training techniques such as desensitization and counterconditioning.
Rule Out a Medical Condition
Before you start looking for a medical cause of your dog’s behaviour, make sure that there are no underlying medical issues that would cause it. If you have a dog that previously did not have any problems with stairs, it is wise to make sure that he does not have hip problems or other joint issues that could make it painful for him to go up and down stairs. There are many conditions causing pain such as hip dysplasia, arthritis, pinched nerves, and damaged spinal cords.
Dogs can develop arthritic symptoms at a young age. In fact, some dogs will have symptoms as early as five years of age while others do not show any symptoms until much later in life.
If your dog has never experienced any of these health challenges, it is best to rule out any underlying medical problem before you start doing a behavioural training program.
Conditioning and Fear of Stairs
The reason that stairs can be so fearful for dogs is due to the fact that a dog’s forelimbs lack the ability to extend beyond their back legs. Climbing stairs would require them to bend forward and this makes them uncomfortable when they are climbing up stairs.
Fear of Stairs in a house is generally a learned unwanted behaviour. It can happen when the dog grows up in a house with stairs which are always scary, and the dog knows to escape by climbing up to higher ground. It can also occur when there are only one or two steps in the house, but the dog has learned that whenever there is a new place there will be stairs and they don’t know what to expect. Dogs will often start shaking, trembling, panting, drooling etc. when they see stairs.
Behavioural Adjustment Program
Now that we have identified the reason for your dog’s behaviour, you can start working on a behavioural program to overcome it. The most important thing is to keep the dog happy during the process. If you are making a program where your pet is uncomfortable and it’s not working out, then your dog will be more cautious in doing something which it has learned to be fearful of. You should never push yourself or make your pet uncomfortable when practicing for the first time.
Overcoming Fear of Stairs
The best way to teach your dog how to overcome the fear of stairs and climb them is through a behavioural program which involves gradual desensitization, counterconditioning, and lots of positive reinforcement. You need to start with short sessions when the dog can stay in control of itself. It is usually better to start in an area where there are no stairs or steps. This way when the dog gets startled and starts to run, it will not end up on the stairs and jump down.
You should start by showing your dog how stairs are not frightening at all. You can do this through a fun game where you put a treat or a toy on each step. Every time the dog goes up to a higher step, they get rewarded with their special reward for going up. If your dog is a puppy, start with treats on a low step or a very short distance.
Gradually increase the step height and the distance between steps. If this game is enjoyable for both you and your pet, then you are ready to move on to the next step. Make sure you do not reward your dog for its behaviour of being startled or afraid when it sees stairs in front of it. It will just learn more of that behaviour and start over again from square one.
If you feel confident that your dog is not going to break down into a fearful state, you can try walking up a flight of stairs with it. Make sure that you are holding the leash at all times. Reward your pet for walking on the stairs and always be sure to reinforce them when they are happy. If they suddenly get afraid, then take a break and start again from the beginning of the training session.
After you have progressed to the point where your dog is comfortable walking up and down stairs, then it is time to start using them daily. Using a stairway in your house can be very beneficial because there are many different stair sizes and configurations. You should set up a behavioural training program to work on this problem every day for 15 minutes at least three times per week or more.
You should also start using stairs in the backyard, because there is usually an elevation change between ground and the treehouse, deck or whatever it is that your dog is avoiding. If you are able to get your dog to go up a step when he is in the backyard, then he will be able to go up a step in the house before he starts getting anxious and demonstrating his fear.
Reinforce Your Dog When They Are Happy on Stairs
You should use positive reinforcement methods whenever you’re training your dog regarding stairs. You should always reinforce your dog when they are climbing up or down the stairs on their own. You should never push it if it is not ready to go up a flight of stairs. It is important that you keep your dog happy at all times during this process because if they are not, then they will most likely start to associate anxiety and fear with stairs again.
Always use treats as positive reinforcement during training for best results. You should not use praise or other types of rewards or your dog will associate praise with stairs. When you reward your dog for doing something, make sure that it is something that encourages the behaviour, so don’t reward for trying to reach a step. It is best not to reward stairs at all because it will just confuse them. Instead, use treats during training for your dogs’ positive reinforcement.
Another way you can reinforce your dog is by using a clicker. Click for the dog to show that they are ready to go up and down the stairs. Every time they successfully get up or down a step, praise them with a click and treat. This will strengthen their confidence over time.
There are many reasons why dogs are scared of stairs, but they often have to do with a genetic predisposition or a previous experience. They can also be caused by an environmental cause such as the new dog being startled by the size of the stairs during their first time using them or an injury while going up and down them.
When dealing with stairs, most dogs do not have a problem going up. The stairs are challenging for them to get down because they become anxious when they realize that they are not capable of getting down the first flight of stairs. There will be times when your dog may want to jump down a couple steps to avoid going into the house, but if you’re using treats and praise, then you can train them to overcome the anxiety that comes from their fear of stairs.