Training for dogs afraid of stairs

Nov 15, 2023

Do you and your dog live in a place where stairs are unavoidable- but your dog is afraid of them? Last week I talked about options for dogs who are afraid of stairs. One of those options, the one you need when you can't avoid the problem, is training your dog to go up and down stairs. 

If you're getting ready to train your dog to take stairs comfortably, here's how to get started:


Step #1: Define your training goals

What kind of stairs does your dog need to go down? What attributes of those stairs do you think matter to your dog?  Some things to include in your training plan might be:

  • How many stairs: Longer flights of stairs are likely to be more difficult. 
  • How steep: Steep flights of stairs can be scarier for dogs.
  • Size of each step (height, width, depth): Taller steps are often more difficult for dogs, while wider and deeper steps can be easier. 
  • Type of stairs:  Are the stairs straight, or curved? Closed, or open (no riser, so the dog can see through to below the stairs)? Those open stairs can be really scary for dogs who otherwise have no problem with stairs. 
  • Step surface: Are the stairs carpeted, concrete? Wood? Slicker surfaces are sometimes less pleasant for dogs.
  • Location of stairs: Are the doors indoors, or outdoors? In an area your dog is pretty comfortable in, or not so much? 


Step #2: List all of the sets of stairs (and stair modifications) available to you

Some dogs only need a little bit of encouragement, in the form of treats, to start going up and down stairs on their own. But if you're reading this, your dog probably isn't one of these. If you have multiple flights of stairs to work with, it can make training easier. In the video below, I show some of our dog Pancake's training on stairs. The first flight of stairs we worked on together consisted of just two shallow concrete stairs. We later trained with some adjustable stairs so Pancake could practice with different stair heights. 


Step #3:  Train with food- slowly!

Ideally, work with your trainer to develop an incremental training plan. In the video below, you can see a few of the many steps that I used to train Pancake.  Use small training steps. For example, at first Pancake practice putting a front paw down on the first step, then coming right back up. 

One note- You might need to teach your dog how to turn around or back up when on stairs. Otherwise, your dog might go up or down a couple of stairs in training, and then not know how to go back the way they came. You can see me using food lures in the video below to encourage Pancake to safely go back up or down after only progressing one or two stairs.  




If you have any questions about helping your fearful dog overcome their fear of stairs, shoot us an email at [email protected]. We'll be happy to try to help!

Want help building your dog's confidence? Join us inside our training membership for fearful dogs, Confidence Builders Club.