Helping an Old Dog Get Over Her Fear of the Stairs

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 12, 2017

For this Omaha dog training session we helped a 10 year-old Chinook named Kiya get over her fear of the stairs and walking on shinny hard wood floors.

I have worked with multiple dogs who were afraid of stairs or shine surfaces. This is exactly why dog behavior experts always recommend exposing puppies to different surfaces when they are still in their Critical Socialization Period.

I noticed Kiya’s nails were pretty long. Not only does this put her at risk for breaking a nail (painful for dogs, sometimes requiring the nail to be amputated) but because she was trying to grab ahold of the wood floor, this was actually making it harder for her to stay stable on the smooth surface.

I recommended the guardians pick up a dremel and went over how they can use positive reinforcement to create a Conditioned Emotional Response (CER) to this tool. Many dogs hate having their nails worked on. But if you take your time, are patient and use the right approach, your dog can actually enjoy it.

Another dog behavior tip I shared was to get Kiya some doggy booties. As a senior dog, she doesn’t have the same strength in her limbs as she used to. As I observed her reluctantly walking on the wood floor, her paws were sliding a bit compounding the problem. Some booties with traction elements to them should help give her better footing. Her guardians can use a CER for these booties too. This video shows how to do the technique (but the guardians will be substituting the nose loop for the booties themselves). I asked the guardians to please reach out if they have difficulty using this CER approach with the booties (at the first sign of confusion or if its not going well. Its important to not try to force it as this can backfire).

Next I was ready to address Kiya’s fear of the stairs. I have worked with several dogs who are scared of stairs, but I needed to modify the technique due to the compounded problem of the fear of shiny floors.

I wish I would have filmed the end result. After working with Kiya for a few minutes, she was walking up and down the stairs without any assistance. I have to say that helping her get over a fear of stairs was pretty rewarding.

It will take some time and practice before her anxiety around stairs is gone for good. But based on how quickly she was able to go up and down on her own, I’m guessing the guardians can help her get over her fear of steps pretty quickly.

Im actually more concerned about the fear of the wood floors. I would have liked to work with her on that more but she was visibly exhausted. This was a physical and mental work out for old Kiya and pushing a dog past its boundaries usually results in steps backward.

I asked the guardians to reach out if the booties and shorter nails don’t fix her fear of walking on shiny surfaces. Its possible we will need to do a short follow up session to address that problem later.

To help the guardians remember all the dog training tips and suggestions I shred in this three hour session, we shot a roadmap to success video.

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