Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stairway to Fear

Many dogs are frightened of stairs, and the reasons vary with each situation.
If you adopt a dog who has never lived in a home with stairs, they may be hesitant to go up them, down them or both!

On the other side, is a dog who HAS lived with stairs before, but has had a bad experience with them.

I will never forget the time an adopter called me about 45 minutes after adopting a beautiful American Bulldog. She was standing at the bottom of the steps leading up to her apartment and the dog would not budge. Another time, I received a call about a dog who went up the stairs initially, but now would not go down them. The poor thing hadn't been outside to go to the bathroom in three days!

Some people try to force a dog up or down the stairs, however this does not allow the dog to overcome their phobia. It also may end in a nip or bite, when the scared dog says: "No way I'm scared!"

Once again, positive reinforcement is the way to go, however, before implementing a training and reconditioning routine, make a visit to your vet to rule out pain as the issue. (For more information on positive reinforcement, see my previous blog on the subject.)

If you are starting with a young puppy, you can prevent the development of fear by properly socializing them. (See my blogs on puppies for more information.)

If you've got an older dog on your hands, who's fear is already instilled, remember to go slow. Start by just approaching the steps. Reward for progress no matter how small.

You can use a tasty treat or a favorite toy to lure you dog up the steps little by little.

Take this training one step at a time...literally. Up one step and back down. (Or down one and back up, depending on your situation.)

Make sure to have something very special (maybe dinner) waiting for the dog at the end of the steps. This way your dog can learn that going up (or down) the stairs leads to something good!

Be patient and do not rush the process.

If your stair way is "open" as in built without vertical panels, your dog may be scared of falling through! Try draping a sheet or blanket over the steps, so your dog can't see all the way down.

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