Dog afraid of heights
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  1. #1
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    Dog afraid of heights

    So I just got my dog today, and she's a beautiful and amazing dog. However, there is one problem... She is afraid of heights. And I live on the second story of an apartment building. I just took her for her first walk and realized this. She hugs the building when we're up on the second floor, and when we get to the stairs... well on the way up I got her to go up the first half of the flight of stairs, but then when she saw how high up she was she bolted down. I wound up carrying her. Is this problem reversible, maybe with lots of treats? Or do I need to return her

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    Senior Member Shell's Avatar
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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    If you just got her: give her time, reassurance and treats. Chances are she's never been up stairs or up high. Think from a dog's perspective-- are those stairs open and thus even less secure than normal? Are the railing openings large in compared to her size (like she could or feels like she could slip through?) Is the wind blowing and shaking the balconies or steps? Is there snow on them to make them slippery?

    Personally I'd go with treats on each step up she takes by herself, tiny tiny treats but tasty. Work to make her physically secure, she might feel more confident walking on a harness where you can give her some support as she climbs.

    As of right now, this is probably a minor issue. If you jump to the "maybe return the dog" thought every time you run into a problem, you aren't off to a good start. Not trying to sound harsh here, just putting it in perspective.

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    Quote Originally Posted by Shell View Post
    If you just got her: give her time, reassurance and treats. Chances are she's never been up stairs or up high. Think from a dog's perspective-- are those stairs open and thus even less secure than normal? Are the railing openings large in compared to her size (like she could or feels like she could slip through?) Is the wind blowing and shaking the balconies or steps? Is there snow on them to make them slippery?

    Personally I'd go with treats on each step up she takes by herself, tiny tiny treats but tasty. Work to make her physically secure, she might feel more confident walking on a harness where you can give her some support as she climbs.

    As of right now, this is probably a minor issue. If you jump to the "maybe return the dog" thought every time you run into a problem, you aren't off to a good start. Not trying to sound harsh here, just putting it in perspective.
    They're concrete steps, but halfway up there is a little open area with railings. It was this that scared her on her way up. And I mentioned returning her because I wasn't sure if you could train a dog to not be afraid of heights, and it's mandatory. Thanks for your help, I will try this. I am also thinking of maybe just having her on her leash, opening the door, and placing treats outside the door, and gradually put the treats closer and closer to the edge near the railing, so she'll get used to seeing how high up she is and associate it with good things.
    Last edited by ERackley88; 02-07-2010 at 04:52 PM.

  5. #4
    Senior Member Shell's Avatar
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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    Make sure that when you are treating her and getting her closer to the railings that you don't allow anything to frighten her. You don't want her to associate anything additional and scary with the landing. So go for a time of day where there aren't other people or dogs, make sure the steps are clear of snow and ice, etc.

    You could try putting yourself (sitting) between her and the railings/open area so that she is on the secure side. Then quietly sit there and treat her and pet her. You want her to think good things happen there. BUT... if she actually could fall off, then be extra careful while training and try talking to your apartment management about allowing you to put something like a safety mesh up.

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    No snow or ice here, I live in FL
    I'll try some of this tomorrow and see how it goes.

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    Well, I took her for her before-bedtime walk, and again had to carry her up and down the stairs. She seems too nervous to be interested in treats. If I were to just keep carrying her up and down the stairs, would she gradually get to where she'll let me carry her without freaking out, and then maybe taking the stairs on her own?

  8. #7
    Senior Member Shell's Avatar
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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    Hard to say for sure, she will probably become less nervous as she gets used to you and learns to trust you AND gets used to her surroundings.

    My dog is kinda claustrophobic and when I first tried to bath him (in my small bathroom), he freaked. He freaked out just trying to get him in the room and even worse trying to get him in the tub. Now he doesn't mind going into the bathroom at all IF I am there with him and its kinda on his own terms (he tries to sneak in and drink the bathwater...) and will do OK getting a bath but isn't thrilled about it. Time, treats and him getting to trust me was enough. He will still freak out badly if he is in the bathroom alone and the door gets shut.

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    I had a very similar problem when I adopted my dog - I lived in a second floor apartment and although the stairs were indoors they were the horizontal concrete slab type with vertical openings so she could see through to the first floor.

    It probably was about two weeks before she would go all the way up them on her own. She is not very food motivated regularly, and like your dog she was pretty much completely uninterested in treats while she was in the middle of being scared of the stairs/heights. The method I used was carrying her up for decreasing amounts. First I would set her down and let her go up the last stair on her own, then two, etc. Since for you there is an open landing (at the top?), I'm not sure if this would work for you? I did occasionally get her to accept some cooked chicken as a treat, but otherwise I just used tons of verbal praise.

    To this day, she is still cautious of open stairs - she takes them slowly one at a time, and looks between the opening at each step.

    It will probably take some time and patience, but in my experience it is possible to work with a dog who is afraid of heights to at least be functional on stairs, balconies, landings, etc. Like other posters have said, I think the important thing is establishing the trust with your dog and getting her familiar to her new home, and working with treats on the landing sounds like a good way to do that. Just keep in mind that your dog is scared (of a pretty reasonable thing to be scared of, I think) so any negative experience will really set you back, and positive experiences will take awhile to build up trust in you as well as in the fact that she's not going to fall or have anything else frightening happen. I know it can be hard to have patience, especially when you have to go up and down those stairs multiple times a day for potty breaks! But it's worth it to establish a relationship where your dog knows she can trust you even when things are scary.

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    It's okay to take baby steps. If she is fine being right in front of the door, then start there. Put the kibble on the walk from the door to her first scarey part, which seems to be the open area with the railiing, she gets to use her nose and find all of the kibble- more interesting and fun if you are a dog. Next time, start further away from the door, but farther still all the way to the open area. Position yourself in this area and look up in the air, like you haven't a care in the world. If she'll put a paw on the area, you know that she'll do it next time. Put the kibble on the open area (or cut up tiny hot dog pieces) and just above it. Let her decide when she wants to give up. If you can divide her kibble up into four or five sessions, which you can do five minutes apart, that's five training sessions.

    You are giving her the opportunity to challenge herself and get all of the goodies, or play it safe and only get some of it. It's important that you not encourage her, but let her sort this out. Be a silent support. When she goes back to the door, have her sit nicely before opening it. Open the door, say in, then good girl. Continue using the kibble, and if necessary meat, to get her to go farther and farther down the stairs. You'll want a long leash on her.

    On the way back up, put a treat on the first step, the second, then every other up to the area of fear and a half dozen there, none to the door. Sit at door, good dog.

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    Just read Spitzy's post. I've also used the one step method and it works very well if there are not other issues.

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    Thanks for the help guys. Maura, I've already tried that method a little bit in terms of putting treats a little bit out of her comfort zone, but she doesn't seem interested. I don't think she's a very food-motivated dog... the foster said she also would just leave food out for cami and cami (/ophelia which i plan on renaming her) would eat a little bit at a time as she needed... I know a lot of dogs will just gobble it straight up, so I dunno if she's very food motivated. Another question though, she was just spayed on Thursday, is carrying her ok? Or will I damage the incision?

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    I recently had a foster turn family member, 9 year old female Aussie terrier. She was a bit iffy on the three stairs that lead form the kitchen to the back door to go out, took them real slow. The stairs from the back door to downstairs where I usually hang out took about two weeks. She figured these out on her own terms, and now goes up & down without a thought.

    Long ago I had a Yorkie in a third floor apartment. The way Spitzy suggests is the exact thing I did with this dog, who we got as a pup. Baby steps lead to the entire task being done. I would use half the meal for a meal, the other half for training. It wasn't long before he would race up & down, and wait for us slow two legged humans.

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    If she's just been spayed, then I would be very careful about carrying her. You don't want to cause any further injuries to the incision. As for the training, she will eventually get used to the stairs and heights. My Nell would not even go near the stairs at where I work when I first got her. It took a few weeks of working with her, using baby steps (taking it very slow), then one day it's like she was never ever afraid of them, just went up and down with no problems. Just don't give up.


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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    that is not much big problem to consider, because most dogs which i know are afraid of height.
    so just wait for some time she will get used to it.

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    well, for now I don't know what else to do besides carry her, despite her recently being spayed. She does need to use the bathroom.

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    Well, it took an hour but i got cami up and down the steps on her own. First I opened the door and left it open so she would feel secure, and I sat with her right outside the door and petted her until she seemed comfortable. Then I closed the door and continued to pet her for a while. I then sat on the opposite end, near the railing, and encouraged her to come over to me. Lots of praise and petting this whole time. I continued this method around the neighbor's chairs they have out front (which means cami ahs to walk closer to the railing, something she was scared of before), and down the stairs. Walked her for a little bit, repeated the procedure back up the stairs. She seems to prefer I sit, as soon as I stand up she would bolt back down the stairs. She's not afraid of me or anything, I guess she feels more secure with me sitting. On the way to my door, she was hesitant but she walked around the neighbors chairs on her own. It's very promising.
    Last edited by ERackley88; 02-08-2010 at 09:08 AM.

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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    Took her out at noon and it took a little bit of coaxing but she quickly made it around the neighbor's chairs and down the stairs and back up again on her own. I'm very pleased

  19. #18
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    Re: Dog afraid of heights

    Good to hear, sounds like you are off to a promising start with both the stairs and her trust in you.

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