Is your pup the bounciest, most playful furball in the world—until you approach a flight of stairs? Or have you noticed your older dog suddenly become reluctant to climb up or down them, even though you’ve seen him bound up the flights countless times over the years? What’s the reason for this change, and how can you convince your animal companion that stairs are not the enemy?
There aren’t any hard or fast rules here. Your dog could develop a dislike for stairs for any number of reasons, including those affected by age, personality, and health. Luckily, there are actions any loving pet owner can take to overcome this issue. We’ve compiled some of the most common reasons for stair avoidance below, along with practical explanations for helping your furry friend conquer those stairs.
Reasons Your Dog Might Be Avoiding the Stairs
Maybe you’re introducing your dog to stairs for the first time, and he seems nervous. Look at it from his low-to-the-ground perspective: this is all brand new to him. He’s never seen anything like this staircase before, much less had to climb something like it. That would be anxiety-inducing for anyone!
Look for signs like hesitation to put a paw on the first step, waiting at the foot of the stairs, or barking and whining for your return when you go upstairs. Praise, support, and patience will also go a long way in building your pet’s confidence.
What’s at the top of the staircase? At the bottom? Consider the impression you’re giving your dog, especially if she’s a puppy or a recently-adopted pet. Dogs will quickly decide if an experience is positive or negative, and they may end up associating those experiences with areas of the house. If your dog is uncomfortable or anxious about baths, for example, and you only ever bring your dog upstairs to bathe her, you can bet that she won’t want to climb the stairs—ever. Develop a habit of ensuring that no experience is singularly negative in order to minimize avoidance. This will make tough moments like bathtime much more difficult for your pet to predict and associate with the stairs.
Your dog may have bounded up and down the stairs her entire life. But some years have passed, and she’s slowed down. You may notice her walking as though she’s in pain. She might be reluctant to go up or down the stairs or even begin refusing to use them at all. This could be evidence that your furry friend is suffering from joint pain that makes it too painful to use the staircase. While joint pain is typically treatable, it’s wise to take your pet to a veterinarian to come up with some options before the condition worsens.
Severe or extended joint pain can result in arthritis, especially as your pet ages. And since a majority of dogs are living past their life expectancy thanks to evolving veterinary care, arthritis is becoming increasingly widespread. In many cases, joint problems go unnoticed by parents and vets until a dog is severely arthritic. Subtle signs, like limping, being slower to lie down or get up, or a limited range of motion, can be indications of arthritis. If you notice your furry family member showing any of these symptoms, it’s wise to consult a professional.
Loss of Balance
A dog who suddenly loses his or her sense of balance and experiences disequilibrium would be understandably wary of stairs. Generally, this health problem is related to the vestibular system, involving the middle and inner ear, specific cranial nerves, and the brain. On the surface, loss of balance can be easily confused with joint pain or difficulty walking. As your companion ages, ear infections or cancer can contribute to a higher risk for developing this condition.
Practical Tips to Help Your Pooch Learn to Climb Stairs
There are many reasons—some health-related, and some not—your dog may be avoiding using the stairs. Thankfully, there are a whole host of ways to address the problem. The solution may come in the form of easing your dog’s anxiety, installing non-slip treads on the staircase, or investing in medications and supplements to support their health. No matter your approach, there are practical steps you can take to help your dog get more comfortable with the idea of tackling the seemingly-ominous stairs. Before you know it, you might find your furry friend racing you to the top—and winning!
Train Your Pup
A puppy that’s afraid of stairs is a much simpler problem to handle than a fully-grown dog who has either never used stairs or is fearful of them. When you give in to your puppy’s whining and carry him or her up and down the stairs, you may be enabling behaviors that could become detrimental down the road. Think about it this way: no one wants to be carrying a 90-pound, fully-grown dog from one level of their home to another.
To ensure that your puppy’s anxiety over the mysterious stairs doesn’t grow into an outright refusal to ever climb them, give your dog some time to properly adjust to the staircase before trying to coax him up or down the steps. Allow him to inspect the area and do his exploring. Once he seems comfortable with the idea of the steps, make sure he sees you going up and down. Gently coax him up the steps with treats, pets, and praise. And don’t forget to show him that there’s something other than a bath waiting upstairs, like a special treat or a comfy bed.
Teaching Older Pets to Use Stairs
Maybe you’re the new parent of a fully-grown rescue pet who’s never encountered stairs before. We (humans) probably don’t think twice about stairs, but they can appear steep and daunting to our pets. While it is much more challenging to teach an old dog new tricks, growth is possible. Try coaxing your pup up one stair at a time using their favorite dog chew or a new toy. Sometimes, it’s easier to carry your pet to the top and work down.
If he or she fancies fetching, try throwing their ball on the stairs and see if they’re willing to retrieve it. Some owners have found success using scent markers to entice their curious companions up and down. No matter what training method you use to teach your fur baby to use the stairs, consistency and praise (and plenty of treats) will be crucial to success.
What to Do If Your Dog Is Struggling to Climb Stairs
Stair-related injuries pose a serious threat to the health and wellness of your furry friend. Your dog’s build and natural mobility have equipped them to climb up and down the stairs successfully, but it never hurts to provide them with some assistance to aid in stair climbing, especially as they age.
While watching your pup climb the stairs might not prevent an accident directly, it can alert you to other health issues that might be plaguing them. Dogs with joint problems, arthritis, or loss of balance may reveal health-related symptoms while climbing stairs. If you notice your pet climbing stairs with difficulty, hesitance, or refusing to climb them all together, it may hint towards a more significant problem. Remember that it never hurts to be cautious and visit the vet!
Providing adequate lighting is a simple—but effective—way to reduce stair-related injuries and increase your canine’s confidence when it comes time to tackle the stairs. Installing stair lighting, an extra wall fixture, or even using bright bulbs in your existing lights can effectively aid your pet in their climbing endeavors.
Aid Their Efforts
A lack of traction can also make it difficult for your pup to climb stairs. Especially if they are made of wood or some other smooth surface, stairs can make it all too easy for your dog to slip. Adding carpet or runners can effectively minimize this risk. Dog ramps, while impractical for long or winding flights of stairs, are useful for helping furry friends navigate a few stairs at a time. They also provide a simple alternative for older dogs or dogs with health problems that prevent them from climbing short stairs.
Support Your Pet’s Mobility With the Right Supplements
As dogs age, they slow down. You might find that your once-bouncy companion is moving a lot slower and even experiencing pain while walking around. It’s always a good idea to see your vet and find out the best way to keep your pet healthy and comfortable before age and health-related conditions set in. In addition to creating a plan with your vet, you can help your dog maintain his ability to stay active with Wapiti Labs’ Mobility or Senior Mobility Supplements. Our supplements are specially formulated with natural ingredients to support joint function and mobility in dogs, no matter their stage of life.
About Wapiti Labs
We’re here to help you give your pet the healthy life he or she deserves. Wapiti Labs produces premium pet supplements that are endorsed by veterinarians practicing both Eastern and Western styles of medicine. Our supplements can support a variety of your dog’s bodily functions and help him or her stay in peak physical condition as she ages. Contact us today to learn more about our supplements and how they can help keep your furry friend healthy and happy.