Why Won’t My Dog Walk Upstairs or Downstairs Anymore?

Dog walk on Stairs

For some dogs, stairs can become a struggle seemingly overnight. A sudden an unexpected hesitancy to going up or down the stairs could be for any number of reasons including:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Injury or Pain
  • Age
  • Loss of Strength
  • Vision Loss

How do you tell the reason why your dog’s behavior has changed? As your dog’s parent, you know your dog better than anyone. Watch their behavior for clues. Are they tentative going downstairs or going up? Do they seem scared or is it painful for them to use the stairs?

Fear of Stairs

The stairs are a common fear for most young puppies. Going up a flight of stairs can seem like an endless obstacle. At the top, looking down your dog may be afraid of falling. Puppies take the stairs one at a time. Give your puppy a chance to adjust, if they’re uncertain carry them up or down the stairs until they know it’s safe. If you have a smaller staircase (just a few steps) let them practice, there before conquering a much larger staircase.

Dogs are always learning, which means a new fear or phobia can develop at any time. Dogs become fearful based off recent experiences, they may have missed a step and stumbled last time they went down the stairs and are afraid they’ll do it again. Or they heard a loud noise when they were on the stairs and think the sound came from the stairs. If your adult dog is showing a sudden fear be patient. Slowly encourage them with treats and praise until they become comfortable with the stairs again.

Helping an Old Dog on the Stairs

Rear lifting harness for helping dog on stairs.

As dogs age they are hesitant to use the stairs because they’re not sure they can navigate the stairs safely anymore. Senior dogs weaken over time, their joints ache and they may be losing strength in their legs. Dogs use their back legs to push themselves up the stairs, as they age this becomes more difficult. They tire easily and, in some cases, may even be painful for them.

An older dog will need your help. Senior dogs no longer have as much control on the stairs. As muscle tone is lost, they may feel like the descend the stairs too quickly. As their legs weaken, going up the stairs is exhausting. A harness that allows you to lift and support them on the stairs will give them back the confidence and control they need to safely use the stairs.

Pet Vision Loss and Stairs

Just like us, your dog’s vision can change and worsen over time. Although your dog may still have their sight, it’s possible for their eyesight to deteriorate enough to affect their depth perception. Which makes going down a flight of stairs daunting. Your dog may need your help to guide them down the stairs, walk next to them to give them confidence that you’re there if they start to fall. When in doubt, use a pet gate to block the stairs, so your dog can only use the stairs when you’re with them.

Helping an Injured Dog on the Stairs

Depending on the nature of your dog’s injury, your dog may need additional assistance and support to help them to move comfortably and safely.

Leg Injury

Rear Support Leash helps dogs up stairs

If your dog is injured, they may need some extra help on the stairs temporarily while they heal.

A dog with an injured leg may need a little boost going up the stairs, especially if they’re wearing a splint or cast that goes under the paw. Dogs rely heavily on the feel of the ground under their paw to know they can walk safely. Using a rear support leash that supports their hind end along with your guidance will help them to take their next step confidently.

Back Injury

Back injuries can vary in severity, before letting your dog use the stairs always speak to your Vet to determine what’s best. If your dog can use the stairs, you want to make sure their spine is always supported. A dog back brace supports your dog’s spine. As it conforms to your dog’s back it provides them the support they need to avoid further injury.

As a pet parent it’s important to pay attention to any changes in your dog’s behavior or any sudden fear or anxiety. This may be your dog’s way of telling you something’s wrong and they need your help.

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2 thoughts on “Why Won’t My Dog Walk Upstairs or Downstairs Anymore?

  1. My dog is 11 and will be 12 in February. I live in an upstairs unit in my apartment and lately he has been hesitant to go down the stairs to use the bathroom and hesitates walking up the stairs. My finances at the moment are really tight, so a vet visit is not possible at the moment. What can I do to help him with the stairs to avoid unwanted accidents? Is there anything I can give him?

    1. Hi Shahri,

      If your dog is hesitating he may need a little extra support and guidance to feel like he can go down the stairs safely. I would recommend trying a lifting harness like the Lift-n-Step harness. This harness provides your dog with full body support, with your help he can avoid an accident. If you have any questions, please call us at 888-253-0777. We’re always happy to help!

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