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My 3 year old black lab refuses to do stairs. I tried when he was a little pup and when I discovered his fear, I stopped.... primarily because I didn't want him freely going down the basement stairs and getting into stuff that he shouldn't. At first, I always kennel train my dogs. They would go in the kennel whenever someone wasn't home but eventually I ween them off the kennel and then I allow them free roam of the house when no one is home. It's great... they have never destroyed anything, never any potty accidents. I have full trust and confidence in my dogs when I leave the house, plus my lab is an excellent watchdog. But back to the main topic...

Now that my basement is finished, I'd like my lab to come join us downstairs, be he won't. He just sits at the top whining because he wants to be with us but refuses to do the stairs. I started working with him today. I started by getting him comfortable with the concept of being on the stairs. I picked him up and set him right in the center of the staircase and we just stayed there until he settled down and stopped shaking. I calmed him down and comforted him, and he seemed perfectly content to just stand right where I put him. As soon as I made a motion of going back up, he just bolted, skipped a few steps and jumped right back up to the top and ran away from the staircase completely.

He actually shakes in fear if I pick him up and head towards the staircase. He has never had a mishap on stairs before. I got him from the breeder when he was 8 weeks old. Whats really confusing is, I brought him into the house with two other dogs already here that had NO problem with the stairs. I never had to teach the other two how to negotiate a staircase. When he entered my household, i had a 12 year old mutt and a 2 year old boxer/lab mix. When growing up, he always took his behavioral cues from the other two... except for the stairs. When I head downstairs, both dogs follow me to the stairs, the boxer follows me right down, the lab just parks himself at the top and starts whining. If I carry him down, he will stay with us, and has no issue bolting up the stairs (kinda clumsy, skips stairs here and there) but won't come back down again.

I watch the dog whisperer a lot, and I believe in Cesar Milans training methods. I watched him break a dogs fear of a pool by holding the dog in the water until it settled down, then he built off of that by going in and out of the water, and built off of that as well. I figured I could accomplish something similar, but for some reason I just CAN'T get him to stop shaking from the stairs. I put a collar on him and we walked up and down the stairs. I controlled his speed so he couldn't skip stairs and so he could get a paw on each step. He was doing really well after a lap or two, but then after letting him off the leash he ran away from the staircase and just cowered under the kitchen table. I'm at a loss. What do you guys recommend?
 

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Hi there - my brother has a yellow lab that has a lot of trouble with stairs and the vet said she can't see very well and that's why she's having trouble. She has not problem with the few steps outside during the day, but at night it's tough. Good luck!
 

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If he'll go up and down on a leash I think thats the answer. Just keep doing it on leash again and again. Be very calm and patient. Never let him not follow you. Keep repeating multiple times every day. Rewards for doing good. After a while drop the leash and have him follow. Then do without leash at all. etc etc.
 

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Perhaps try starting at the bottom. Arm yourself with lots of high value treats. Put him on the first- or second-to-last step and tempt him down with the treats. Praise for any and all progress no matter how small. End the session with playtime or a big fistfull of treats (in other words, coming down the stairs equals something really great!). Repeat over and over. Once he's confident going down just a step or two on his own, put him a little higher and repeat the process. I would not recommend just putting him in the middle of the stairs and leaving him. I think that would only serve to worsen his fear. :(
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
If he'll go up and down on a leash I think thats the answer. Just keep doing it on leash again and again. Be very calm and patient. Never let him not follow you. Keep repeating multiple times every day. Rewards for doing good. After a while drop the leash and have him follow. Then do without leash at all. etc etc.
I'm trying, but he is so scared of it
Perhaps try starting at the bottom. Arm yourself with lots of high value treats. Put him on the first- or second-to-last step and tempt him down with the treats. Praise for any and all progress no matter how small. End the session with playtime or a big fistfull of treats (in other words, coming down the stairs equals something really great!). Repeat over and over. Once he's confident going down just a step or two on his own, put him a little higher and repeat the process. I would not recommend just putting him in the middle of the stairs and leaving him. I think that would only serve to worsen his fear. :(
I didn't set him in the middle and leave him by himself, I was right next to him making full contact the whole time. I even had my arm wrapped around underneith him as if I was still holding onto him or bracing him. The problem now is even after todays short session, he is very reluctant to come near me now, he is shying away from me thinking every time I approach him, I'm going to drag him to the stairs again. Do you think treats might break this fear?
 

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Maybe I mus-understood. I thought you said he would go up/down while on a leash? If so keep repeating.

Holding him close etc etc may be part of the problem. You do not want to feed into or reward his anxiety. You need to show calm leadership, make it clear what you want him to do and make him do it.

A few months ago our dog, who is rarely fearful about anything, suddenly became very fearful to go into one part of our yard. I've no idea why or what may have happened to cause it. I immediately put him on a leash and basically forced him (dragged him at times, for a few seconds) to heel beside me thru that part of the yard again and again. No anger but firm, giving him no choice. After a while we would start stopping momentarily and I'd make him sit in various spots, again and again. Then off came the leash and I'd make him do it all again off leash. When he would be calm he would get rewarded. 1/2 hour and it was all done; he was back to normal in that part of the yard, like nothing ever happened.

The dog will look to you for leadership. Try not to make a "big deal" out of it or give him any anxiety to feed off of. Just do it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
so even if he is shaking and being timid about it, I should just go ahead and keep walking laps up and down the stairs?

the leash worked, but when we would get back to the top, he would try to get away, and I'd have to drag him back down again
 

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i would try the treat method. lure him down with a few treats at the top 2-3 steps . he'll probably figure out how to grab them and jump back up. make sure the treats are IRRESISTABLE. once you see him getting his treats start putting them further and further down, i would try to move one step down every 4-5 days at first and then speed up to every 2-3 days once he gets the hang of it.

mine was afraid of stairs too, but after too many times of not being able to be with me, she just learned to deal with it and come down on her own
 

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so even if he is shaking and being timid about it, I should just go ahead and keep walking laps up and down the stairs?
Yes. He is panicking for no reason. Totally ignore the shaking etc. As he keeps going up and down the stairs he should eventually learn there is nothing to be afraid of. Just be a firm patient leader, up and down, don't say anything, no treats, no petting etc until he is CALMLY following you. He will draw confidence from you.

I don't like the idea of luring him with treats because you are rewarding him while he is in a poor frame of mind, rewarding his anxiety.

If he has been afraid for years then maybe it will take a while but I can't believe in a week he would still have a problem. But every dog is different, who knows?
 
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