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While descending the steep, narrow stairway from our second-floor apartment this afternoon, our four-year-old shepherd/greyhound mix lost his footing and stumbled down about four steps. It was a rather hard stumble, though he never entirely lost his footing. Now he’s developed a phobia of the stairs and won’t even go near the top step. Coaxing him with treats, toys, and other incentives does not work; if we get him outside of our apartment’s front door, he just collapses onto the floor and won’t budge. (On the other hand, he is completely fine going up the steps.)

He is a large, lean dog – weighing around 70 lbs. with his head raised about 3 ft. off the ground. His lower rear legs resemble a greyhound’s more than a shepherd’s: they’re thin and spindly, but not particularly muscular. As I mentioned, the stairs are quite steep: I would say that when going up or down the stairs his back forms a line that is at least a 45 degree angle from the ground. Truth be told, these are not ideal steps for a dog (or most humans for that matter), but for now this is where we live. He needs to (and for 4 years until today used to) go down the steps at least four times a day.

We’re concerned that he may have aggravated what appears to be the early stages of dysplasia in his right, rear hip and have scheduled an appointment with the vet for tomorrow to have it examined. I’ve also contacted the landlord to have some rubber slip-resistant treads put on the concrete steps (admittedly, this was long over due, as these concrete steps provide no traction and have become quite treacherous once the buildings residents track the recent snowfall indoors).

Most of what I’ve read or seen online has not been directly applicable to our situation. First, this phobia resulted from a traumatic experience on stairs he's been going up and down quite happily for 4 years. Second, the steps are indeed potentially dangerous. They are not only steep, but narrow, providing him with no natural resting place. Third, they are quite long (about 20 steps). On account of this, it’s more difficult for us to induce him to tackle his fear without placing him in danger of hurting himself.

In closing, I should add that he has never had a fear of stairs before, but that in general he is a rather fearful dog. Through patience and training, we’ve been able to get him to overcome his other fears, but given the actual physical danger involved here, we’re not sure what to do.

We would appreciate any advice anyone has to offer. Thank you.
 

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How long has it been since he fell? He might just come around naturally after enough time. How have you been getting him down the stairs since it happened? Since you said you have been able to get him to overcome some of his other fears, I would do the same for the stairs. It seems your method worked on him in the past. Maybe to make it a little safer for him you can train him to follow you down the stairs as opposed to going first. That way you can set the speed so that he's not racing down them and maybe you can prevent him from falling very far if he does slip in the future. It seems you'll just have to be careful on the stairs, as I wouldn't want you getting hurt on them either.
 

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Thank you for your response, Pynzie. We actually found that NILIF worked very well as a training method, so he always follows us down the stairs.

This morning, however, I managed to coax him with a little ground lamb. I'm wondering if his fear was less to do with the stairs than a pulled muscle, as someone else suggested.

So, all is well that ends well. I appreciate your help, thanks again!
 
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