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Stair Masters

How to Teach Your Dog How to Climb Stairs

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Header photo Willee Cole/

I was booked to do a live segment for my local television news station on dog training. As usual, I brought one of my dogs along. This time it was my black Labrador Retriever Logan’s turn. We arrived at the station and the producer met us in the lobby. 

“I’m so sorry, our elevator is broken. We’ll have to take the stairs,” she said.

“No problem!” I replied, following her through the lobby. I started up the stairs. When the leash tightened behind me, I realized Logan wasn’t following me. Surprised, I looked back and saw his sweet face tense with worry. It was only then it hit me—I had never taught my three-year-old dog to climb stairs. Not only that, but these were floating stairs—the space underneath the staircase was open. These can be scary for people, let alone dogs. 

The facts leading up to my current situation flooded my brain. My home was a single story. My friends Logan visited had single-story homes. Whenever we visited health care facilities as pet therapy volunteers, we always took the elevator. Surely there had been a staircase somewhere? None. And now my deadline was a live television appearance. Yikes!

I pulled out my homemade treats. Thank goodness my dog learned quickly that the stairs weren’t so scary after all. We made it to the camera on time and the segment went without a hitch. And from that moment on, I taught all my dogs to navigate stairways. Lesson learned!

Stairs can be very daunting to dogs. Whether you have a young puppy or an older rescue dog who’s never tackled stairs before, teaching your dog to go up and down stairs is a useful exercise. Since you will not likely be under the pressure of live television, you will have the luxury of taking things slowly.

Going Up 

It’s easier if you start by going up the stairs. Going up is one thing, and coming down is entirely another. Your dog is likely to learn how to go up first. If you think about it, coming downstairs requires your pup to loom over the stair—that can be a scary view!

Get some delicious treats your dog loves. Where you start will depend on the size of your dog and your staircase. Choose a stair that is just within the reach of your dog’s mouth. For example, if you are working with a little Maltese puppy, this will be the first stair. But if you’re working with a grown Greyhound, this could be the third stair.

Place a treat in the middle of the stair, within your dog’s reach. As he stretches to eat it, praise him. Repeat this a couple times, on the same stair. When your pup is easily taking a treat off the stair, place one on the next highest stair. It may help him if you sit on the same stair. He should have to stretch for this one, putting a paw or two up on a lower stair. Every time he climbs, praise!

Going Down 

Start at the top of the stairs, and put a treat in the middle of the next stair down. Sit on that stair. Again, this might be scarier to your dog. He may whine, go back and forth at the top, even bark. Ignore this. Instead, praise him heavily for any brave movement towards going down. 

If he goes down that first stair and eats the treat, immediately put a treat on the next stair down. You move down a stair, too. Repeat until you both reach the bottom.

Be patient. It may take one session, it may take several. If you go slow and make the process fun, before you know it, your dog will be racing up and down like a stair master!

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