Stairs are a common sight for human beings. While we often see them in public places such as malls, grocery stores, and restaurants, some even have stairs within their homes.
This is why we don’t often wonder as to how our beloved dogs view these stairs, but this thought does arise if you ever witness your furry friend being afraid of stairs.
While humans see stairs as just a way to move from one floor to another, certain dogs can see them as obstacles, which could make them feel intimidated or overwhelmed.
Regardless of the breed or age of your dog, there is always a reason why your dog cries, trembles, or backs away when they see a staircase.
At times, it can just be a particular staircase that triggers this fear in your dog, and other times, it could be the sight of any raised platform that causes this reaction.
Is your large dog afraid of stairs all of a sudden, and you can’t seem to figure out why? Well, worry not, for you have come to the right place to have your questions answered.
In this article, we will be addressing the reasons that make some dogs afraid of stairs and the steps you can take to help them get over this phobia.
Is It Normal for Dogs to be Scared of Stairs?
Dogs are often scared of unknown elements, and the same holds true for stairs. It’s an adaptive habit, and it is used to prevent dogs from getting into tricky situations back in the day.
There are dogs who are often fearful of stairs because they weren’t introduced to them by their breeder before they got sent to their new homes. It could also be that the dog you rescued has only lived in a house with a single floor, thereby keeping them away from the concept of stairs.
Regardless of whether a dog has ever seen a staircase or not, it can’t be denied that while stairs are a natural sight for human beings, they can be seen as a daunting and huge obstacle by dogs.
When a dog looks at a staircase from above, it could appear like a very steep cliff to them, and if they view it from below, it could seem like an insurmountable mountain. Dogs, as we know, have a natural instinct to stay away from things they aren’t familiar with.
Why is My Dog Afraid of the Stairs?
If you’re not able to figure out why your dog is scared of staircases, or you’re wondering why your large dog is afraid of stairs all of a sudden, here are a few reasons that could help you determine the issue:
Your Dog is Going Through Physical Pain
If the fear of stairs in your dog is sudden, it could be because of a medical condition or injury, due to which it’s important to consult your vet before you go ahead with any other option.
They could be suffering from hip dysplasia or any other recent injury, which makes it difficult or uncomfortable for them to go up and down the stairs. Older dogs, for example, are vulnerable to joint problems such as arthritis, making them reluctant to use the stairs.
Dog parents should note down the symptoms whenever their pet is afraid to use the stairs. For instance, if they walk with a slight limp or display lethargy, then it’s probably time to seek medical advice for your dog to determine any underlying health conditions.
They Have Had a Traumatic Experience
Has your dog always been okay with stairs but is suddenly displaying a fear of climbing up and down a staircase? If yes, then it could be because of a traumatic experience they have been through either on the stairs or anywhere near them.
Perhaps they fell down the stairs or were pushed down a staircase sometime in the past, which is what makes them afraid to try it again.
It could also be that they had an accident on the stairs while you weren’t at home, and although the incident didn’t cause them physical harm, it left a mental mark, which then transformed into a stair phobia. Therefore, they are bound to recall that scary incident every time they see a flight of stairs.
Their Nails Have Grown Too Long
When a dog has nails that have grown too long, it becomes difficult for them to hold on to stairs, especially the ones that are made of laminated wood. This can make them want to avoid stairs as much as possible.
If this is the case, you should check the length of your dog’s nails and clip them so that they are of the appropriate length, which makes it easy for your dog to use the stairs.
Lack of Exposure
At times, the simplest reason for a dog’s fear of stairs is the fact that they were never exposed to them from a young age.
When a puppy is being trained initially, almost every little thing seems scary to them, be it another animal or even the carpet at home. Hence, when they see stairs for the first time, it is bound to take them a while to get accustomed to how they function.
Stair phobia doesn’t just exist in small dogs or puppies but in bigger and older dogs, too, if they have never seen them before.
For example, if you bring home a senior or large dog who has only ever lived in one-story homes, they will display fear initially before they learn how to use the stairs.
The fear of stairs can often be instilled in dogs unintentionally by their owners.
For instance, if you don’t allow your dog to go on the second floor while you’re not at home, you probably use different tactics to make them stay away from the stairs, such as punishing them for going up and down the stairs or by installing pet gates.
As a result of this, dogs automatically associate stairs with something bad or negative and thereby harbor a fear linked to staircases.
Although you may not have thought about it, genetics can play a role in your dog being scared of stairs. If they were raised by a mother who was afraid of traveling up and down staircases, chances are this fear can be passed on to them as well.
7 Ways to Overcome a Stair Phobia in Dogs
Listed below are some of the ways in which you can help your dog overcome their stair phobia:
1. Visit the Vet
Whenever your dog does something out of the blue or displays weird behavior, it’s best to consult your vet immediately. The signs and symptoms of pain in dogs can be very subtle, which is why the ideal solution is to get it checked to rule out any possibilities of medical issues.
2. Don’t Carry or Push Your Dog
When a dog is unable to get to you because of a staircase, it will leave them frustrated, causing them to whine whenever they encounter stairs. It often happens that dog owners carry their dogs just because they feel disheartened hearing them whine.
This causes dogs to realize that whenever they whine, their owners will eventually carry them and not make them go through the ordeal of going up or down the stairs. However, if this continues, your dog will never learn to use the stairs, which isn’t good for them in the long run.
Hence, no matter how loud they whine, don’t carry them up or down the stairs. Instead, encourage them to use the stairs and learn in the process.
Be careful not to literally push your dog down the stairs. You might think that this tactic might work, but it could cause them to become more fearful or even lash out by biting you.
After all, how would you feel if you feared the water and someone just pushed you into a swimming pool? Hence, literally pushing a dog to face their fear isn’t a positive tactic.
3. Keep the Staircase Clean
If the staircase is too cluttered, it can make it tougher for your dog to climb. Therefore, ensure that there aren’t any obstacles in the way during the training. If your dog happens to bump into something or knock something over on the stairs, it can multiply their fear further.
4. Distract Your Dog
Instead of making a big deal about your dog’s stair phobia, you can try the simple tactic of distracting them while making them climb up and down the stairs with you.
Give them lots of attention, talk to them in a joyful tone, and pat your hands against your legs while they are with you on the stairs. Once they manage to climb the stairs, give them rewards in the form of treats and praise them too for a job well done.
5. Take It One Step at a Time
At times, a dog can find it daunting to train on an entire staircase all at once, which is why you should literally take it one step at a time. Make use of positive reinforcement for this purpose.
You can pick your dog up and put them on the first step and encourage them to go down by luring them in with treats. This way, they will slowly become more comfortable with the concept and be able to navigate their way through the stairs.
When a dog is afraid of stairs, they relate it to something negative, which is where counterconditioning comes into play. Through this, you can train your dog to react to stairs in a way that is different from their current reaction.
Therefore, it causes them to replace their feelings of fear with excitement or happiness with the help of positive reinforcement.
For example, stand at the end of the stairs by holding out their favorite treat or a beloved toy. Once they manage to reach you, shower them with love and praise. Make them feel like they are the best dog in the world, and eventually, they will get over their fear.
Counterconditioning and desensitization work perfectly together. This is when you expose your dog to an activity in a manner of low intensity before taking it up to full exposure.
If stage one is giving your dog a treat for going near the stairs, the next step is to motivate them to take the first step. Encourage your dog to come to the first step by standing there, and once they accomplish this task, reward them and repeat this strategy at every step.
You can also implement this technique during dinnertime. For instance, place your dog’s food bowl next to the stairs. If they get to the bowl and consume their dinner with no hesitation, move it to the first step the following day, the second step the day after, and so on.
Why is my dog scared of stairs all of a sudden?
If your dog is afraid of stairs all of a sudden, it could be because they have recently suffered an injury that makes it painful for them to climb the stairs.
Are stairs bad for big dogs?
Stairs aren’t bad for dogs unless they have a medical condition that causes problems whenever they have to journey up and down the stairs. Since it’s difficult to carry bigger dogs on a staircase, it’s best to avoid them whenever possible.
How do you get a big dog up and down the stairs?
If you suffer from mobility or balance problems, you can install a stairlift to move up and down the stairs while carrying your dog on your lap. If you have a big dog, consider getting a vertical platform lift installed.
How do I get my anxious dog up the stairs?
With anxious dogs, it’s best to take it one step at a time, literally, when walking them up the stairs. Talk to them, keep a cheerful tone, and shower them with lots of attention while taking them up the stairs.
Is it hard for dogs to go down a staircase?
The dogs who often find it difficult to use a staircase are small dogs, little puppies, and older dogs.
As a dog parent, you’re probably aware of most of the things your dog fears. However, if a phobia sets in all of a sudden, it can be overwhelming for both the dog and its owner. This is why it’s vital to examine it closely and take the necessary steps before it escalates further.
If your dog is scared of stairs or your large dog seems to be afraid of staircases all of a sudden, go through the strategies listed above to help them overcome this fear in the smoothest way possible.
Heather Abraham is a professional blogger who owns two dogs, a cat, a parrot, and a leopard gecko. She has a connection with animals since she was a child. She shares her love for all pet breeds and provides information on pet food, toys, medications, beds, and everything else.
She is committed to learning about the internal workings of animals. Her work permits her to work closely with knowledgeable vets and obtain practical expertise in animal care. When she is not working, her love of animals continues in her writing. Her goal is to educate and uplift readers who also have a passion for animals through her writing.