Does your dog try to race you up or down the stairs? Do you worry that they’ll trip you and you’ll fall? Would you love it if your dog walked politely with you on the stairs or, if you’re at home, would hold position at the top or bottom until you give them permission to join you at the other end? Good news! We can teach you how to teach your dog to be polite when it comes to stairs.
If you’re in public with your dog, you may need to use stairs while your dog is on leash. To prevent him from pulling you up or down, it’s important to teach them how to walk with you. At The Academy of Pet Careers we teach two different styles of stair work for when your dog is leashed.
Stairs For Mobility Assistance
The first is for mobility assistance. In this case, we want the dog to take just a single step at a time and then wait for you. You can decide if you want your dog to be on the same step as your feet, or one step above or below you. That decision usually has to do with how big/long your dog is. When teaching this skill, you will cue the dog to “Step”. The moment his foot comes off the current step, mark it with your CLICKER or your verbal marker so he knows he’s done the right behavior. Then, as soon as his front feet are on the next step, present a tasty treat just in front of your leg (the one nearest your dog).
This will help him learn to take a step and then look at you. Repeat this process with each step. With practice, you and your dog will find a rhythm together and you will find you only need to give the “Step” cue at the start and at any landings, and you will only need to mark and reward once or twice along the way. Over time, you’ll be able to do the whole flight of stairs (or multiple flights) without needing to mark and reward at all.
Stairs For Companion Dogs
The second version of walking with you on stairs is more for the average companion dog. In this case, we don’t need to literally go a single step at a time. But we do want the dog to essentially Heel up or down the stairs so they’re neither pulling ahead nor lagging behind. Similar to the first version, we cue the dog at the beginning and tell them “Step” and then start walking smoothly up or down the stairs. You will mark and reward while in motion – the same we train the dog to walk in a Heel position along flat ground. Again, with practice, the dog will learn to just move with you at all stairs.
Finally, at home when we’re relaxed and the dog is off leash, sometimes our needs are a little different. In my home, I taught my dogs a “Wait” cue. This way, as we approach the stairs, I can tell them “Wait” – which means pause your action for a moment. Then when the human has gotten to the other end of the stairs, I can give my dogs the green light and they can traverse the stairs at whatever speed is comfortable for them. This came in very handy when visiting with my parents are a little less stable on stairs than they used to be.
I look forward to seeing you out and about and taking stairs like a pro with your dogs. Happy training!
Author - Jody Epstein
Jody Epstein is a certified behavior consultant, certified professional dog trainer, and holds a master’s degree in animal behavior from Tufts University. She has been training professionally for more than 12 years and is pleased to be part of the Academy of Pet Careers team, teaching the next generation of trainers. Look out for her blogs on all things dog training and animal behavior.