Training Your Dog To Use Steps

If your dog has never negotiated any kind of steps, here are some things to try.


If your dog has never negotiated any kind of steps, here are some things to try. Place the steps against a wall in the common living area of your home – somewhere your dog already enjoys spending time with you. You can play games with your dog near the steps, have a fun training session near the steps, let your dog enjoy a stuffed Kong beside them, and even feed meals from a bowl on or near the steps. Do this for a few days until your dog is fully comfortable being near and passing the steps.

I use a clicker as a marker signal, though you can also use a short word such as “Yes!” to mark the behavior, which will then be reinforced with a piece of food.

Place the steps where your dog will need to use them. Get some pea-sized pieces of yummy food that your dog really loves, such as baked chicken or cheese (try to use a food the dog doesn’t get on a daily basis). Take a piece of food, put it at your dog’s nose and lure him to the first step, mark and reinforce. Take another piece of food and toss it slightly away from the steps (you’re resetting the dog to return to the steps). Because you’re sitting or standing near the steps and you just fed him at the step, he’ll likely quickly return to you.

Going down can be more challenging for dogs. Again, move at your own dog’s pace. You’re going to repeat the same process of luring, marking, and reinforcing your dog for successful negotiation of each step.

If he bypasses the steps by jumping down and around them, no worries. Just lure him back up the steps, then begin again to lure him down. If you move at his pace, your efforts will likely be met with success. If he bypasses the steps several times in a row, end the training session and start again several hours later or even the next day. Each dog gains confidence at a different pace and there’s no need to rush the process.

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