Why are dogs afraid of stairs, and how can we help them?

Dogs are the most petted animals of all times, and love is ever booming. According to a survey from 2018, 19.5 million people in India today have a dog as a pet, and by the year 2023 the statistics are expected to rise to a whopping 31 million. This inclusivity of canines in the human structure calls for certain universal adjustments in the surroundings. Staircase and dogs have been a problematic combo that hinders the ease of existence. But can we avoid it entirely? With an ever-increasing rate of the human population, as opposed to restricted space, a staircase is invincible. To completely negate its importance and avoid it, is impossible. Thus, co-existence has to be the go-to thing; dogs need to be trained as per the structural evolution of human existence. But how do you make a dog comfortable with stairs? This is only possible when we know the reasons behind their aversion. Once we know their concerns, we can also make things easier for them with stairs.

"Stair-related injuries can range from muscle strains and bruises to fractures, head injuries and even death," says Dr Courtney Arnold. Evidentially, it is not a topic worth ignoring. Hence it is advised that no sooner than the puppy turns 12 weeks that he must be trained for stairs, essentially when it is a double-storey house.

The good news is that according to a theory by Dr Jonathan Wood, dogs are instinctive to ascend and descend stairs. Also, their wish to move along with their humans drives them to take the staircases more often. So, training would not be such a hefty task.

One or two steps are still manageable, but when it comes to a flight of stairs, the tasks seem unbearable to them. Unlike popular opinions, it is not the laziness that gravitates them to the lift but those dreaded stairs.

REASONS

LEARNED BEHAVIOUR

It's all about the experience for our little ones. Exactly how a little kid starts believing in the unseen, unfelt ghost since their infancy, our dogs, too, are highly perceptive of the things they have been asked or made scared of since they are still in the puppy stage.

Some parents instil the horror of going near the stairs from the beginning, only for their convenience. This fear sets deep in the psychological system of the dog, and thus they develop a permanent fear of stairs.

Sometimes if a dog tumbles upon or injures themselves on a certain staircase, they become vary and anxious about that particular experience, so they avoid taking the staircase. Sometimes, falling or tumbling from the staircase also strikes on their confidence levels, so they steer clear of the stairs.

It is advisable to discourage the pet with mild reprimands to not become completely apprehensive of those things when they grow up. These become the building blocks for various phobias in dogs. Negative experience and lack of early socialisation give rise to these aversions from stairs in dogs.

SLIPPERY RUGS

 When you have a pet, you can indulge in your delicacies for home decor entirely. However, it would help if you took every decision concerning your pet's ease as well; some things become a complete NO in your list of decors.

One such thing is the exquisite, slippery rugs. But, unfortunately, these rugs do not support the paws; on top of it, they tend to slip from the surface it has been kept to. And who has forgotten the classic scene of Tom and Jerry, where Tom tumbles upon the rug while running after Jerry but ultimately flattens to the surface of the rug.

Now everyone can relate and acknowledge that the problem was and still exists to be REAL for our pooches.

LOSS OF VISION

Vision is anyway an underrated sense of our pooches; losing it further will undoubtedly make matters worse. Like humans, age plays its card on dogs as well. Imagine if a dog cannot sense the depth of an object placed; how tough would it be for them to walk through a huge flight of stairs. Steps that are slick, narrow, circular, or varied in sizes makes the matter graver, for it also plays on the cognitive powers of a dog. The major issues with eyesight occur due to age; as dogs age, their eyesight gradually begins touching the brinks of sightlessness called nuclear sclerosis. It is not just the horrors of lost sight that haunts the dog, but age brings with it multiple bodily issues.

AGE

As is said,

 "Time spares no one", not even our harmless, loveable pooches. Their senses tend to dull with age, their body strength seems to fade, and their bones become weak by the day. It is difficult to carry out daily chores; a hefty task of ascending and descending the stairs is not something they would like.

With age, certain diseases also crop in their body, which suggests against the usage of stairs. Arthritis is one such disease where there is an inflammation in the joints of the diseased dog; bones in the joint rub together; therefore, mobility becomes an issue.

HEALTH ISSUES

Sometimes a dog may suddenly refrain from going towards the staircase; this suddenness should be decoded as a sign of physical injury in them. In parallel to arthritis, there are multiple diseases that discourage dogs from taking those stairs. Irrespective of age, many diseases in the canine body can lead to the fear of stairs. We have segregated those issues for you:

Orthopaedic As the name suggests, Orthopaedic disease refers to the ailments and deformations of bones and muscles of a dog. Your dog could be born with these diseases, or they could have developed it over the various experiences or accidents they had met with. There is a set pattern with dogs dealing with orthopaedic issues. If the issues lie in the body's lower body, say, hips, knees or hind leg issues, there would be no problem with descending stairs, but such dogs will be apprehensive of climbing up the same stairs.

 On the contrary, dogs dealing with issues in the upper part of their bodies, i.e., elbows and shoulders, find it troublesome to descend the stairs instead of climbing up.

Dysplasia is one such disease where the hip joint of a dog shows deformations. It is primarily concerned with larger breeds of dogs such as; German Shepherds, Labradors, Golden Retrievers.

Neurological diseases refer to those that deal with imbalance in senses in a dog. In simpler words, problems involving the neck, disc, spine, and back come under this category. Vestibular disease is the most common of these neurological diseases. It affects the head balance of a dog; major symptoms involve drooping of a dog's head. Consequently, it is difficult to walk straight since the head is already lowering.

GENETIC PHYSIOLOGICAL ISSUES

As humans inherit certain diseases from their parents, dogs, too, have such a tendency. These diseases cannot be curbed or completely cured, but precautions by the dog-parent is a must. From identifying the disease's roots to its precautionary details, everything should be paid attention to, and a record must be maintained for a healthy lifestyle.

Dogs with body structures that include short legs along with long spines have a genetic disadvantage over stairs. Similarly, some dogs are prone to IVDD disk displacement diseases, aggravated by travelling through the staircase.

WAYS YOU CAN HELP THEM WITH THIS FEAR

SUPERVISION

Simply watching your pet ascend or descend stairs would not prevent the supposed fall, but it can ensure the dog's safety. Whenever they take the dreaded stairs, make sure to stand right by them or at least watch so they have the moral support to get through it.

This small act helps build confidence since they also know that if anything goes wrong, they would be taken care of immediately.

DECLUTTER THE STAIRS

 Once you adopt a dog, pet-proofing is an imperative process. Decluttering stems from the same old need to ensure that you must not be careless with throwing knit and knacks here and there. It becomes even more important on the stairs, for the pet already finds it difficult to walk through it, as the paws do not ensure a very solid grip, and on top of it, they have these knit and knacks to tackle with too.

Thus, decluttering is a must if you have a dog at home.

STAIR RUNNERS

As mentioned above, dog paws do not ensure the most solid grip. The least we can provide is to make the surface more frictional for them to have a better chance at making grip. If slippery tiles or surfaces are incorporated, it will escalate the fear of stairs for them. Thus, stair runners are suggested for people who want to ease the process of ascending and descending for their pets.

CARRY THEM

Don't we all find reasons to do that already?

Training and building that trust that they will be fine on those dreaded stairs is a long process; you can let them alone till that time they can be on their own. You cannot possibly get anything done with your pets using harsh reprimands or aggression without repercussions. Anything and everything has to get through the path of love. So, for the time being, carry them.

Some dogs are advised not to use the stairs altogether; for them, it is unquestionable that you carry them, or better, you use the elevators with them.

PET RAMP

Carrying the dog is fine until the dog parents are themselves able to, or the dog breed is not too big, or it is merely two or three steps. But, once it is a flight of stairs and the dog is big too, it is not feasible to carry them throughout the staircase. In such scenarios, Pet ramps come in handy so that they are built like slides and are put over the stairs so that dogs can help themselves.

STAIR GATES

Stair gates are generally suggested to puppy parents to not wander and explore the stairs in the puppy stage. It safeguards them from tumbling and injuring. At this stage, they instil the entrenched fears, so it is better to expose the stairs to them once they at least trained.

STAIRS- A BOON OR BANE

Stairs have a notorious image in the doggo world. They are both a cause for happiness and sorrow for them. Stairs as a subject hold a very dubious position, not only with dogs and their parents but also with Vets.

Dr Jonathan Wood, a staff clinician in neurology at the University of Pennsylvania School of

Veterinary Medicine claims that he uses stairs as a tool to diagnose various diseases. He states, "usually, whatever is afflicting them is only making itself apparent when the dog uses the stairs."

So, he follows the pattern and reactions of a dog on stairs and, based on his observation, makes a diagnosis of the issue the dog is facing.

In addition to this, staircases are seen as a great way to exercise your dogs as it involves moving every part of their bodies. But some arthritic dogs are suggested not to take the staircase.

Thus, it would not be wrong to say that every dog is different, follow the terms of his liking along with a Vet's advice, and you would not need anything else. This difference follows when it comes to their food choices, shop for best of flavours and nutritious food from pet store online, so that your dogs never have to compromise on their tastes.