Scared Dogs: Training a Fearful Dog
How to Train a Scared Dog to Go Down the Stairs
There could be many reasons why your dog is afraid to use the stairs. They may be new to him, he might have had a scary fall, or he could just be overly careful. Whatever your dog's reasons for being anxious around steps, never force him to use the stairs. This will only make him more fearful and could make him aggressive. Instead, retrain your dog using positive encouragement and let your dog set the pace.
Preparing to Train
Determine if your dog has a medical condition.If your dog continues to refuse using the stairs or if your dog was happy, but is now afraid, have him examined by a veterinarian. Your dog may have a medical condition like arthritis, elbow or hip dysplasia, disc disease, or muscular weakness that can make it difficult for him to handle the extreme angles of climbing stairs.
- If you suspect your dog is in pain or has medical reason to fear stairs, you may want to talk with the vet before you begin retraining.
Choose good training times.Your dog will be more receptive to training if you choose a time when he's alert and content. Avoid training your dog if he'd rather be out for a walk, is overly tired, or needs to eat. You should also break training into several small sessions of about ten minutes each. Doing so will keep your dog's interest.
- You may want to time the training sessions to fall right before a walk or play session outside. This way, your dog will look forward to training because he knows he'll get to run around afterwards.
Let your dog set the pace.Watch your dog during each training session. Keep practicing as long as your dog wants to. Encourage your dog and reward each small step and improvement. If your dog seems distracted or loses interest, take a break. Never force your dog to train or use the stairs. This will only make him dislike the stairs even more.
- Forcing your dog to use the stairs could make him aggressive out of fear. He may bite, bark, or snap to show you that he's afraid of the stairs.
Physically support your dog.Your dog may fear using the stairs if he's fallen down them in the past. To help him, consider making a sling out of a towel to provide physical support. It can also make him feel safer, since you can catch him if he slips.This is especially helpful if your dog fell because of issues with arthritis or another condition.
- To make the sling, simply fold a towel length-wise and slide it under your dog's belly. Gold the two towel ends together at the top. This will gently support your dog to help him up and down the stairs.
- Another option is to take a sturdy, reusable shopping bag and cut it down the sides so that it lays flat, with a handle on each end. Slip this under your dog's belly and hold onto the handles to support him.
- Practice using the sling on non-slippery steps and a small staircase.
Encouraging Your Dog to Use the Stairs
Introduce your dog to the stairs.Ideally, your dog should be socialized to the stairs when he's a puppy.Fortunately, if he wasn't, your adult dog can be introduced to the stairs in the same way as a puppy. Look at your dog's size and decide on an appropriate start. For example, if you have a large breed dog, take him over to a regular house stair. If you have a miniature or toy dog, stack up two or three books to make shallow steps.
- If using books, make sure the cover is not slippery and they are stable. Or, wrap the books in towels to give your dog some traction.
Lure your dog onto the first step.Place a treat that your dog enjoys on the first step. This will make him interested in climbing up the stair. Encourage him to step up and get the treat. Use kind words spoken in a soft voice, especially when he makes an exploratory move like moving his paw onto the step. Once he jumps onto the first step, give him the reward and praise.
- For example, say, "Go on boy. Get it." When he does jump up, you could reward him and say, "Brave dog!"
Motivate your dog to get back down.Your dog may feel stranded up on the stair, so lure him back down with a treat. Have your dog practice going up and down the first step over several training sessions. Eventually, your dog should go up and down the first step confidently. At that point, start working on the second step.
- If your dog is hesitant to go back down, you might want to make the drop from the step to the ground shallower. For example, set several books on the ground and place the treat on top of them.
Praise your dog's efforts.Don't feel like you can only reward your dog when he successfully climbs the stairs. Instead, reward and encourage small improvements like looking towards the step or touching it with a paw. You should be helping your dog build positive associations with the stairs. This will reduce his anxiety.
- Try to make the stairs fun for your dog. Treat training like a game and your dog will be more likely to try climbing them.
QuestionMy 5-month-old pup will run upstairs but will not come down no matter what. How can I teach him to come down?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf your steps are wood, then installing stair treads will solve his sense of instability on the stairs. If your steps are carpeted (or after you install stair treads), try then coaxing your pup down by rewarding him. You want to keep him from cementing this fear into his little pup psyche. Put her leash on at the top of the stairs, so she was excited for a walk. Then, as she starts to pull back, give her a favored treat, having also placed one treat on each of the steps leading down to the door. With our coaxing and the tempting treats awaiting, she should eventually come down.Thanks!
QuestionMy golden is 1/1/2. She will not come downstairs to the family room with us. She stands at the top of the stairs but is afraid to come down. I have tried treats and calling her but she's scared for some reason. What can I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerShe is scared because she is unsure. Try walking down the stairs in front of her, and hopefully she will follow. Don't encourage her with treats at the bottom. Encourage her from next to her. Pick her up, and put her on the second step. Then the next, then the next. If she tries to run back up, let her. It will get her used to the stairs. Start from the bottom. Put her on one step at a time. She will eventually get used to this, and try it for herself. Never stop her from running away though, you want her to feel safe.Thanks!
QuestionMy 4 year old Shitzu fell down the stairs and now will not go up. We have tried treats and all kinds of encouragement, but she is still scared. What can I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerPick up the dog and gently carry her up the stairs (while holding her just off the ground). This may help her inch toward overcoming her fear.Thanks!
QuestionMy 3-year-old dog who has been in a military training program refuses to go up or down stairs. What should I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerWhat happened to its original owner? If he/she died, stairs could be some sort of reminder of it, or of a wartime situation. Treat the dog kindly. Don't force it to do anything.Thanks!
QuestionMy 7-year-old collie fell coming up the back steps when he was young. Nothing we have tried will make him use the stairs, and now it's getting worse. Any suggestions?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerCarry him up and down the stairs a few times, with his feet close to the stairs. Then put a treat on each stair and see if he will go down. If he doesn't, try again another day before you feed him so that he will be more treat-motivated. Repeat this every day until he overcomes his fear.Thanks!
QuestionMy dog slipped on my stairs. She goes up, but not down. I have tried treats, walking down with her, but nothing. Any ideas?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf you have another dog that isn't scared, have him/her go down a couple times in front of the scared one. Maybe if she's light enough, you can carry her down, letting her paws touch the steps, and then give her a treat.Thanks!
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