Is your little dog reluctant to do stairs? Look at it from your dog’s perspective.
Imagine you’re only a foot tall. Now imagine a staircase. Looking up or down, it doesn’t matter. If you’re a little dog doing stairs, it looks like a vast mountain you’re either too small to scale, or headed for a steep tumble.
No wonder your dog doesn’t do stairs!
We’ve actually had a couple people mention lately that their dogs don’t do stairs, or go up on the furniture. Jumping onto and off of furniture isn’t good for dogs, so we always encourage people to get stairs or ramps for their pups.
But what if, even with the assists, your dog is afraid, or won’t do it?
Hope’s French Bulldog Torque wouldn’t go up or down stairs for the longest time. He also did the pitiful “Mommy, uppy!” thing when he wanted to come up on the couch. We know it’s weird for an obedience/rally/agility dog like Torque. He knew how to jump over things, but not up onto them.
Now he floats up onto the furniture without thinking twice. And what changed, for Torque, was when his “Auntie Pam” came to visit and he wanted to get up there and kiss her. And play with her French Bulldog girls, who were also up on the couch.
Stairs were a different story. Hope had to teach Torque how to use them. To this day, it’s not a favorite activity, but he does it. It’s actually kind of cute because he has to center himself at the bottom step, rocks back and forth a couple of times to get himself ready, then he bounces up the steps, front legs together, back legs together. And don’t try to stop him in the middle – he’s an all-or-nothing kind of guy.
Start at the very beginning
Almost everybody starts teaching stairs going down first. And they set their little puppy or dog at the top of a flight of stairs. It must look like a bottomless canyon to the dog!
Instead, try one step. The very first one from the bottom. Puppy only has to go down seven inches. That’s doable, for just about any small dog. In the picture, you see Simon learning to do steps using a target. We use a very fancy target object – the lid from a container of sour cream. Or yogurt. Or, best of all, ice cream. Because you have to consume the product before you can use the lid. Preferably chocolate (but don’t let your little dog help you with that).
Anyway, getting back to the matter at hand, the first objective is to build “value” in the target. That takes about two minutes for most dogs. You hold out the target and when your dog touches it, you put a treat on it. Then do the same thing with the target on the floor, being sure to put the treat on the target. After about five treats, your dog will be addicted to “targeting” for life. (Another tangent: Hope’s French Bulldog girl, Dax, was so in love with targets that, when her first agility trial was at a soccer complex, she kept running off course to check out the white circles painted on the turf for soccer stuff. Silly dog.)
One step at a time
As in the picture, place the target on the floor, about a foot from the base of the step. Put the dog on the step. If the target has value, chances are your dog will be on the floor checking it out before you have a chance to get back to it. You can certainly put a treat on the target for your dog to find.
When the first step is mastered, move up to the next. You probably won’t have to teach the entire flight, after about three or four steps your dog will figure it out.
We’re pretty sure you’ve figured out that teaching “up” is the exact same procedure. Put the dog on the first step from the top and leave the target up on the floor. Because Torque, as a French Bulldog, is very “top-heavy,” Hope stayed with him until he got his balance mastered. The last thing we wanted was for him to fall and be more frightened.
Life is a lot easier now. After our every-morning play-training sessions in the basement, we just call “cookie up up,” and the horde races up the stairs. Torque bouncing all the way.