For dog owners, their pets are beloved and valued members of the family. Your pup is there to greet you when you get up in the morning and when you return from work. They love to be involved in everything you do, but as dogs age, it can become challenging for them to go through daily life with us the same way they did when they were young. If your house has different levels or high furniture, your senior dog might have difficulty moving the way he used to.
Dog steps can help increase your pet's access to all areas of your home and may strengthen their hindquarters to expand their range of motion on the hips. Dog steps allow your dog to climb onto the bed, couch, or split level of the home without strain. But if your senior dog has never used stairs before, can you teach an old dog new tricks? Here are a few simple techniques to help you get started.
Teach Him with Treats
One of the simplest ways to train your senior dog to use dog steps is to use the one thing he loves as much as he loves you: treats. With your dog at ground level and the stairs leading up to the bed or couch, have your dog sit quietly at the bottom of the stairs.
Next, place a treat on the first step and make sure it captures his attention. Invite him to take the treat. Now place a treat on the next step up, so he has to put his front paws on the staircase to reach it. Again, invite him to take it when you're ready.
Continue with this method with subsequent steps until he has reached the top of the stairs. Reward him with another treat and lots of love as a positive reinforcement for managing the climb.
Each time your dog performs the climb, decrease the number of treats you're using and practice going down as well. Eventually, the goal is to get your dog feeling optimistic about the stairs, even without a treat on each step.
Using a Harness for Assistance
If your dog is too hesitant to use the treat method, or they're simply very old and struggling, you can try to get your dog comfortable on the stairs using a harness.
To get started, gently fasten an appropriately sized harness around your dog's body and make sure it fits correctly. It shouldn't be too tight or loose. Your dog may be uncomfortable at first if he's never worn a harness before. Let him walk around in it and get used to the feeling before you begin working on the stairs.
Using the harness, guide your senior dog to the base of the steps and reward him with a treat when he gets there. Use the treat method described above to encourage your dog to take the first step. If he places a paw on the next stair but is afraid or unwilling to move, gently use the harness to lift him on the next step. Reward him with a treat when he touches down.
Practice the movement of lifting him to each stair with rewards until he gets comfortable enough to make a move without any pressure on the harness. If your dog becomes ambitious at any point in the process and decides to climb the rest of the stairs, allow him to do so. If he becomes nervous and wants to move backward, you can comfort him or support him back down. Don't force him into an uncomfortable situation that will form a negative association with the staircase.
Creating a Cue For Climbing Dog Steps
It's not good for your dog's health to eat a pile of treats every time they want to climb the staircase. Once they become comfortable with the process of climbing up and down, you'll need to phase the treats out.
Try using less treats each time until you're just feeding your dog a single treat when they reach the top or the bottom of the stairs. Eventually, you can switch to using your empty hand as a lure to guide your dog.
You may also want to try developing a verbal cue that notifies your dog you want him or her to climb the stairs or descend. Begin by using a treat at the top or bottom of the stairs and simultaneously maintaining a consistent verbal cue word. Choose something simple like "up," "climb," "down," or "here."
Use the same verbal cue each time, so your dog doesn't become confused. Once your dog understands the signal and responds, you can stop using treats and just reward him with some affection for a job well done.
Tips for Keeping Your Senior Dog Safe
Stairs can be tricky for a senior dog, even if they offer relief from jumping up and down off furniture. Place pillows on either side of the stairs at the beginning of the process in case your dog decides to jump off halfway through the climb or falls. You can also ensure the stairs aren't slippery for your dog but placing a carpeted runner or textured rubber pad on them. Make sure it adheres securely to the step for stability.
Try to keep the stairs in the same spot so your dog becomes familiar with their location, and never move them while he is using them.
Support Your Dog Through the Senior Years
As dogs age, their agility fades, and your faithful companion finds challenges in what used to be simple everyday tasks. By providing dog steps in your home and assisting your dog in learning to use them, you can help simplify their life.
Make the experience the most comfortable for your dog by selecting the best set of stairs for your home and needs. The material the stairs are made out of can impact the ease with which your dog can scale them.
Training your dog, especially a senior dog, can be a time-consuming process that requires patience and positivity. Make it a pleasant, bonding experience between you and your dog so that your best friend feels supported and loved in your home.