by Tracy Buck
Start with the dog on leash, with the leash attached to a buckle collar. While the dog attempts to go up/down the stairs, you will need to keep pressure on the leash to help support the dog, and to prevent the dog from jumping up/down the stairs. Insecure dogs will try to 'rush' or jump because they don't know how to move their legs in the proper sequence.
One or two training sessions should be all that is needed. You will have to 'retrain' for each new set of stairs, until the dog masters the skill (i.e. stairs to the 2nd level are different than the stairs to the basement). Also, it is always easiest for the dogs to learn on carpeted stairs with good footing, and that have backs to the risers. Uncarpeted, open-backed stairs to the basement are generally the scariest of all (and who likes going in the basement anyway!!)
GOING UP THE STAIRS
Going up is easiest for the dog, so start! Carry the dog and place them 2-3 stairs from the top. Set them down gently, with the forelegs on one stair, and back legs on the stair below. Keep gentle pressure on the leash to prevent rushing. If the dog will take FOOD, offer some cheese or ham, and let them eat it and relax on the stairs. Put the food on the stair itself rather than giving it from your hand. We don't want them stressed. If they won't eat, that's okay, don't worry about it.
Stand directly behind the dog, so your body supports them and they won't worry about falling. Also, your 'pressure' will encourage forward movement. Have someone they like at the top of the stairs calling them. If that is not possible, then quietly walk around the dog and you go to the top of the stairs. With your back to the dog, talk in a happy, excited voice and encourage them forward. If they don't move, you start walking away, adding gentle pressure to the leash. Don't jerk them, or drag them up the stairs. But we want them to believe we are leaving and they should follow. LOTS of verbal praise and treats when they reach the top (remember some dogs don't appreciate touching, especially on the head - that is a PUNISHMENT!!) Carry the dog back down to the start point (since they don't know DOWN the stairs yet)
Now, repeat, again going only 2-3 steps until the dog is easily successful. Place food treats on every step, so the dog can reinforce himself for every stair. Next, add an additional step each time the dog is successful. (2 steps, then 3 steps, then 4 steps, then 5 steps) Again, try to get them to relax and eat food on the steps. As they gain confidence, you will see a change in their body posture and demeanor. They will seem VERY confident and pleased with themselves if you are making the training a positive experience for them.
GOING DOWN THE STAIRS
At a different training session, teach DOWN the stairs. This is much more difficult for the dog. However, our teaching process is the same: to teach the DOWN, we simply reverse the training we did on the UP.
To start, walk the dog up the stairs once or twice and lots of praise/treats on the stairs and at the completion of the task. Carry the dog down the stairs for now.
Next, place the dog in the proper position going down the stairs, 2 steps from the bottom, and legs on the proper stairs. Keep sufficient pressure on the leash to keep the dog from jumping, and stand behind the dog. Encourage as you did previously. Praise and food rewards for success.
With each successful step, add another step to go down Try to get the dog to relax and eat on the stairs. Place the food on the stairs if they won't take it from your hand.