Oops is that your fear or the dog’s hang up?

Training to freely go up and down stairs

Dear Dr. Amy,

I have been having trouble getting my Shih Tzu to walk down the stairs from my balcony.  When she was 6 months old she fell from my balcony. Luckily she was ok, but ever since then she has refused to walk down the stairs. They are very scary for her since they are open steps and she could fall through. The funny thing is, she has no difficulty climbing up the stairs. What should I do? I have been carrying her down the stairs for about a year now!


This Is Getting Old

Dear TIGO,

It sounds as if your dog has done a wonderful job of training you! She has figured out that she can get extra attention from you if she hesitates at the top of the steps. You give her sympathy, reassurance, and a free ride! The funny thing is, she is probably not scared of the stairs at all since she has no difficulty climbing them. Now you will need to train her to be more independent. We will re-train her to the stairs. This is something that we do for puppies without even realizing it.

Put your dog on the very bottom step and call her to come to you for a treat. She will likely do this without any hesitation. After she is reliably doing this, set her on the second step and repeat the process. After a few short training sessions (that should of course include lots of praise and treats), she will be able to walk down half of the steps when you set her there from the bottom. The next step is to get her walking down the stairs from the top. Start by picking her up at the top and walking her down to about the fourth step from the bottom. Set her down and continue walking down the stairs. Call her to you for a treat and praise. As she gets good at this, set her down on higher and higher steps until she can once again walk down all the stairs from the very top.

This whole process shouldn’t take you more than a week or two, and then you can stop being a servant to your dog!

Happy training,

Dr. Amy Hellard