Wednesday, 19 December 2018
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Our young dog is afraid to walk down the stairs. How do we train him?

Our young dog is afraid to walk down the stairs. We have tried using incentives, such as food and toys. They don’t entice him enough to try. How can we teach him to go down stairs?

Good training involves good splitting. Good splitting means that big tasks can be split or broken into smaller steps.

When it comes to stairs, dogs may fear a full flight, so keep in mind that big tasks are learned in baby steps.
When it comes to stairs, dogs may fear a full flight, so keep in mind that big tasks are learned in baby steps.  (dreamstime)

It’s a familiar concept because we start at kindergarten and work up. Learning something like algebra starts with counting blocks. First steps are simple. Each step becomes more challenging. Big tasks are learned in baby steps.

When it comes to stairs, dogs may fear a full flight. Several ways exist to overcome this issue.

Smaller dogs, ones that owners can pick up, can be carried to the bottom step. Have the dog practice stepping off that one last riser. A small treat will likely work to lure the dog down because the task is extremely easy.

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While such a drill may seem too easy, it builds confidence. Starting with an abundance of caution prevents the dog from feeling scared. When dogs are lured with food on a task that creates fear, the food starts to feel like a trap. Dogs can start to distrust food offered as bait. The opportunity to increase difficulty always exists later.

Once the dog is happily stepping down one stair, put them on the second stair from the bottom. Repeat the process until confidence soars. From that point, it’s simply a matter of backing the skill up one step at a time.

For other dogs, dogs that are too big to be carried, families may have to search out smaller sets of stairs. Try porch or patio steps. Build the dog’s abilities in other locations before moving to the full flight in the home.

In either process, keep food lures low to the ground. Dogs need to be looking down, not up, while they work through this skill. Food held too high or thrown out too far can cause dogs to teeter or jump instead of walk down. Both of which can be dangerous.

We read that dogs should never walk in front of their person. It feels too restrictive and we want our dog to be able to move, sniff and be a dog. Can we give our dog some freedom and not ruin him with being too permissive?

Successful dog training meets the needs of both the humans and the dog. Training teaches dogs to fit into our human world. Dogs should also be allowed to be dogs.

People generally understand that other species — fish, reptiles, avians, etc., need the right habitat and enrichment or they can suffer. Dogs are adaptive. Unfortunately, it means that sometimes they are expected to stop being true to their nature.

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Families need to decide which behaviours are necessary and desirable. Walking on a loose leash is a reasonable goal. It is a myth that dogs must walk behind a human. Nothing drastic happens when dogs walk ahead of people.

Do teach dogs to walk on a loose leash. If you don’t mind having a dog that sniffs, so long as they don’t pull, then that is just fine. Other families may not want their dog sniffing. To balance the more restrictive nature of this type of walk, they give the dog scheduled sniffing breaks.

Regardless of which choice one makes, it is not permissive to give a dog time to do what they naturally do. The needs of both humans and dogs can and should be met. One just has to find a compromise that works for both ends of the leash.

advice@awesomedogs.ca

Source: https://www.thestar.com/life/relationships/advice/2018/11/14/my-dog-wont-walk-down-the-stairs.html

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