Stairs can be intimidating for dogs who are either very young, very old, or are simply unused to them. Older dogs who have used stairs their entire lives can find themselves having trouble getting their joints and muscles to work as they once did in order to properly navigate the risers. Here are a few easy tips to get your dog accustomed to stairs, or to help him get both up and down the steps as he ages.
Dogs don't always get the idea of stairs, and they can sometimes feel intimidated by the thought of going up or down them. Taking a little time to train your pooch can calm his nerves and give him the confidence he needs to charge up the stairs without pause. With a leash on your pup, step up on the first step and encourage him to follow. Use treats if necessary to entice him up, then turn around and step down, coaxing him to follow. Do one step several times, then take a break. When you're ready for round two, go up and down two steps with your dog, then three. He might be ready to try the entire staircase after he's mastered three steps in a row.
Ramps are an ideal alternative for small sets of stairs, such as an outdoor stoop. Ramps take up more space than stairs, having to be long enough to avoid a steep slope. Commercial dog ramps are often collapsible, folding for easy storage when you're not using them. You can also make your own out of wood, but make sure it's strong enough to support your dog's weight without sagging in the middle.
Standard chest harnesses that you might use walking your dog can also help him up the stairs, if he has problems stepping up with his front legs. Lift gently on the harness to take some weight off his legs as he climbs the stairs. If his hind legs or hips are the issue, especially if he has arthritis issues, use a rear harness to lift as he climbs. This fits around and under his tush, allowing his legs free range of motion while giving you something to hold onto while you lift. If you don't have a harness, rolling up a towel and wrapping it under his chest or in front of his hind legs can serve as handles for you.
Stairs made of wood, laminate, vinyl or other potentially slippery surfaces can cause your dog to fall. Dogs with arthritis problems are especially prone to slipping on stairs. Covering all or just the center of the stairs with carpeting can help alleviate this problem, giving their paws a soft surface to grip so they won't slip.
By Rob Harris
About the Author
While studying journalism in the Army and at the University of Missouri, Rob Harris developed a lifelong love of physical fitness and nutrition, contributing often to a dairy industry newsletter. He has also worked with and created blogs for several family businesses including a professional dog kennel and a flower shop, where he used his experience as an avid gardener to grow plants for sale.