Puppies, and even some older dogs, have often never encountered steps before, so it's natural that they don't know how to navigate them properly. Steps can seem very intimidating to your dog in the beginning because they are an unknown, but when you take a non-threatening approach to training and use positive reinforcement, your dog will soon be trotting up steps with ease.
Approach the bottom of the steps with your dog. If your dog is initially fearful of the steps, use treats and positive spoken reinforcement as encouragement to approach. Remain calm and patient at all times, even if it takes a long time to coax the dog to approach the steps initially. Forcing the dog to approach the steps can exacerbate feelings of fear and should be avoided completely.
Walk away from the steps, and then approach again with your dog, using treats and reinforcement as needed to calm any fears or hesitance. Repeat this exercise of approaching the steps, and then retreating, until your dog approaches the steps without hesitation. Dogs may feel more comfortable if you do this while on your hands and knees, since this will put you on the pet's level and help reduce anxiety.
Lure the dog onto the first step using treats and verbal encouragement. Place the treat in a position where the dog will have to place at least his front paws on the first step in order to get it.
Place a treat or a toy that your pet enjoys on the second step, making sure it is far enough back on the step that your dog will have to ascend the step rather than simply stretch to get the prize.
Place a treat or toy on each step, repeating the process until your pet has reached the top of the steps.
Repeat the entire process on the same set of steps until your dog is comfortable with it. Take the dog to another set of steps, one that he isn't yet familiar with, to practice ascending steps again. Exposing your dog to many different types of steps can be helpful in preparing your pet to navigate nearly any environment with confidence.
- Have "high value" treats available: These treats should be something your pet is willing to work for to attain the best success rate.
- If your dog continues to be reluctant to go up the steps, consider placing the pet's food bowl at the top of the steps at mealtime. Make sure that your pet sees you do this, so that he is aware he must go up the steps to get dinner.
- Make sure your pet ascends the steps one at a time. Bolting up stairs shouldn't be encouraged as it can lead to serious injury.
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