Just weeks after deciding that we would not be getting a second dog, we found ourselves with a puppy.
As exciting as it was to bring home our very own adorably squishy and awkward baby boxer, we hadn’t actually trained a puppy in almost 15 years. A few days of haphazardly caring for Banjo reminded us of that.
From walking on a leash to chewing appropriate toys, Banjo had a lot to learn. One lesson we weren’t expecting to teach was climbing stairs. We live on the third floor of a walk-up, and Banjo’s first reaction to the staircase was to sit at the bottom and refuse to budge.
Your Puppy’s Perspective
Stairs to you and me are hardly intimidating. But if you want the puppy experience, try climbing down stairs face-first on your hands and knees. That steep drop and those shallow steps are pretty terrifying.
For an animal who’s still fine-tuning the ability to walk and whose motor skills are not fully developed, managing the footwork involved in climbing and descending stairs can be tricky.
1 Step at a Time
Because the descent seemed much more challenging to Banjo, we began training her to climb up first. We placed her in the middle of the staircase, facing upward. From that starting point, we did the following:
- Gave her lots of verbal encouragement
- Lured her with high-value dog treats
- Were very patient
One of us stayed ahead of Banjo, coaxing her forward. The other remained behind her in case she lost her footing. The last thing we wanted to do was scare her even more by allowing her to fall.
For days we worked with Banjo. We physically assisted her by:
- Moving her feet up the steps one by one (silly and tedious, but effective)
- Gently lifting her up and forward with a leash clipped to her harness
- Keeping our hands on her backside to relieve the fear of sliding back
Fortunately for us, at 3½ months old, Banjo was still small enough to carry up and down those 2 flights while we trained her to manage them on her own.
In this video, a puppy gets praise (and some canine help) when attempting the stairs:
Making the Descent Easier
Climbing stairs, though far from easy from a puppy’s point of view, is still much simpler than going down them. Although going up relies on upper body strength (something that will grow as the puppy gets older), going down is more a matter of balance.
Most puppies I’ve met have been stumbling, clumsy balls of energy and not the least bit steady. Sending them face-first down a plunging strip of 90-degree ledges is practically guaranteeing a head-over-heels tumble.
Avoid injuries by approaching the training slowly and patiently. Let your puppy sit at the top step while you sit 3 steps lower. If you can sit sideways so that your body blocks most of the remaining steps down, the 3 stairs between you and your wiggling cutie will seem less intimidating.
If she won’t attempt the 3 steps, move 1 stair closer and see if she’ll try 2 steps. As she becomes brave enough to close the gap, praise her and continue descending 1 step at a time.
Next, try using food to entice your puppy:
- Choose something she will find irresistible (cubes of cooked chicken are always a hit in my home).
- Place it on the edge of each step.
- Couple the food reward with your verbal praises as you encourage your little one to follow you down.
Always remain in front of your puppy while she learns to go down stairs. You want to be able to catch her if she overshoots a step or loses her balance.
You can also try training your dog to slide down the stairs like this hilarious Labrador does, although I doubt we’ll get Banjo to do so!
The Sudden Success
It seemed that we were training Banjo to climb stairs for weeks. In truth, it took her only about 3 days to build up the confidence. A couple of days later, she finally mastered the descent as well.
With massive paws and long, ungainly legs, Banjo still looks like a spider monkey clamoring up each flight after our walks. She has some trepidation as she goes down as well.
I’m happy to say her stair-climbing lessons were a success and we can move on to other puppy lessons — like what defines a chew toy. (Hint: It’s not my underwear.)