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My fiance and I just adopted a two-year-old 80lb Great Pyrenees/Husky mix and she is absolutely perfect except for this one phobia of stairs (though she is also scared of dark shadows, flinches sometimes when you pet over her head to fast, and doesn't like covered walkways, which is where the stairs are). We live in a second story apartment which makes this a huge problem. My fiance can lift her but I can't, and he's had to go on a two day business trip. I've been working with her all day and staying calm, but I am starting to crack a little bit.

I just don't want my fiance to throw his back out again, especially because I pushed for this dog and I feel completely responsible. I have always been proud that my family never re-homed a dog and I can't bear to think of doing it, but I also don't want my fiance to have to carry a dog up and down the stairs 4+ times a day for 6 months. She's so sweet and good so the poor thing will probably hold it forever in agony before she goes.

I have tried letting her go at her own pace, but she won't go near the stairs, even with incentives (treats and she loves cheese). She is so scared of them and won't even really pay attention to the food. After watching an episode of The Dog Whisperer where he deals with a St. Bernard that has a fear of steps, I tried being a little more forceful, but still calm like he said (keeping the leash lax when possible). The collar slipped off very easily so I got a harness. That slipped off as well. I returned it and got puppy pads, but I don't think she'll know to go on them.

Also, with the Cesar video, the St. Bernard did not seem to show the fear that my dog did, so I don't think I got her into the right state of mind. I am not anticipating the behavior (and causing a self-fulfilling prophesy). He took the St. Bernard for a run and started at the bottom of the stairs but we're currently stuck at the top. I played with her and ran around the apartment with her to try to achieve the same effect.

Please don't berate me for getting such a large dog in an apartment. Please believe me, I am bawling my eyes out and I feel very stupid for pushing the idea. My fiance wanted to wait 6 months until we moved into a house but I pushed and pushed like a six-year-old. She's very calm (got the Pyrenees temperament, I believe), and I am more than willing to walk her all she needs, but I can't get her down the stairs!

Since my emotional state has been compromised I've taken a break from trying, because I don't want her to sense my tension.

Summary for those who don't want to read my sobfest:
2-year-old 80lb Husky/Pyrenees mix in second story apartment that is terrified of stairs; the only person who can lift her is gone. I have tried her favorite foods as motivators and haven't taken out any frustration on her. I'm afraid she won't know how to use the puppy pads I bought. Please help.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Additional info:

Also I'm not sure how to tell how much of it is fear and how much is stubborness (Pyrenees trait I believe). She is definitely scared of them, as she salivated a little when I was more forceful and shook mildly (I am realizing this might have been a bad approach). Whenever I try to walk her toward the steps she just uses her body weight (and only pulls more if I pull). As afraid as she is, she also has a stubborn streak. I feel bad for trying to force it, there's just so many different dog training theories out there I don't know which one to believe. Cesar's method seems to work so well, but then others say it's abuse.
 

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What CM does is called flooding, and is actually a bad technique and can make the dog even more afraid and also cause it to become afraid of the owner since they are forcing it to go by the scary thing.

Treats really are the way to go, you have to start with very high value treats, think hot dogs, chicken, deli meat, steak etc. and you need to start far enough away from the stairs so that she is concerned but not so afraid she's refusing to take treats, getting to close pushes the dog over their threshold and they are to scared to learn. Feed her treats there, give her attention there, play with her there, an hour or so later repeat but try to move a couple steps closer just make sure she's not over threshold or it won't work. When you get to the steps start putting the treats on them. When you get to the stairs you may want to put lower value treats on the first steps and the higher value treats on the further ones so that she's more encouraged to go onto the stairs.
 

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The stairs and walkways probably smell funny to your dog. And also may feel strange under foot. Is there a way of familiarising her with the stairs by laying small pieces of bedding or mats that smell of her in the walkways and on the stairs? Even if you have to lay them in front of you and pick up them up behind you? It wouldn't be forever.

Just a thought in case the training with treats is not working....
 

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Many dogs have a fear of stairs, especially if the treads aren't solid. To a dog it seems they are stepping onto something not solid.

Don't try flooding. That works for humans because humans can understand why a fear or phobia is irrational. We can't explain that to dogs. When you flood a dog with what it fears, you cause extreme stress and the dog goes into fight or flight. If someone is strong enough to force the dog to experience the fearful thing, the fear is increased.

Try using treats and gentle coaxing. If possible get a piece of carpet long enough to go from one tread to the next or even three at a time. If you can extend the carpet as far onto level starting ground as possible. You're trying to diminish the scary look of the stairs. If the dog can do a few steps fairly well, go back the other direction, using the carpet to cover the treads of the stairs. Let the dog go at it's own pace. If you have to go back and forth, covering just a few steps at a time, do it. Patience will pay off. Keep these training sessions short. Take breaks and go inside for a while and then go back and repeat as often as possible.

Be upbeat and stay calm. If you act concerned and stressed, the dog will not know why and could conclude that you too are afraid of the stairs. I like to let the dog follow me, rather than trying to pull or push the dog.

If the dog only puts one paw on the next tread, treat and let the dog go back to start. This can take a long time or it can go very quickly. I've had a few dogs like this and both of them quickly learned to negotiate the stairs without fear.

Edit to add that a blanket on the stairs would serve the same purpose.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
After I posted this I had given up on the stairs and started trying to get her to use puppy pads on the porch. Some new cheese motivated her to come out there and I praised her and used her bathroom command. She went right beside the pad. I praised her like crazy anyway. Good thing I know my downstairs neighbors really well.

@icemaiden
It is a short walkway so sunlight floods it during the day. It seems that she is worse at night, even with the door lights. I might try shining a flashlight down the steps at night as they are especially dark.
Also, everything probably smells funny to her as I just got her, so I think I was expecting too much out of her.

@Rain
You are absolutely right about better treats. By chance, I thought she might be disliking the cheese that I bought (thought I could fool her with some processed american) and I tried some really good provolone. That was enough to get her on the porch to use the pads (she doesn't like the porch wood or tile it seems) and I think it may be the perfect incentive for the stairs as well. Thanks so much for the advice. We’re going to resume in short intervals tomorrow.
@Susan Lynn
They are outdoor stairs that I’m trying to get her to go down. Rough wood, same as the porch. I don’t think it’s a traction issue.
@Grabby
I’m going to leave the flooding to Cesar. I didn’t think about the lack of understanding when it comes to the flooding process. That makes a lot of sense. The blanket idea is good as well, though they are not very slippery steps and she’s never touched them to know. I think she lived in a one-story most of her life. I know I shouldn’t be so happy about her going near the puppy pad, but it really takes the pressure off having to get her down the steps immediately. I thought I did a pretty good job of staying calm, but she could probably tell I really needed her to do it.


Thank you all so much! I am more than a little embarrassed at my hysterical post earlier, haha. I really can’t tell you all how helpful you have been.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Also, Icemaiden, the stairs are not like the ones in front of buildings. They are wooden (like a full flight of porch stairs) and open in the back, which I read probably makes them look scarier.
 

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I wonder if the fact that they are open in the back is a problem. Also, I'm guessing that there is just a hand railing, and not a wall along both sides of the stairs.
 

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It took a bit to get Koda used to stairs, too, just because the traction is weird-and she's easy going when it comes to things like that.

Another thing you can try is hotdogs-you can cut them in really small pieces which makes them perfect for training. Likewise with leftover ham or pieces you couldn't finish of your dinner that don't have bones. And it's a lot cheaper!! :)
 

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Do you have a door at the bottom of the steps? I'd open that up. My parents have a big male Rottie who is deathly afraid of steps after he fell off of them as a pup. He will come up steps with a great amount of encouragement only if he has enough room at the top/bottom (and doors open!). Have you tried high value treats (hot dogs work for us!)? I'd even grill up some ground beef or chicken to help entice!
 

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There's no door.
Yes there are only hand rails, and there's a wooden support about every foot. I think this and the fact that they are open in the back are why it is so severe.
 

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Our Romeo "Roman" here was (when we first got him) afraid of the stairs...
But then we have a middle landing break so the steps are'nt too intimidating for our boy...

How we trained him is to throw food & toy bouncing down the stairs after playing or feeding him the items.
He got the gist quite readily.

To top it all off... he can't lose out to that "step experienced" cat in the house... So a little show of competition really helps.

Learning via examples is a good thing.
(Especially when working on trust)

Little cat is not getting hurt doing it...
How bad it can be for that chiken little dog???

P1000941.jpg
Chicken little dawg galloping over a log...
We used to have to physically show him how to go over an obstacle much like this...
(Steps, logs, log bridges, floating decks, jump over a running small creek etc..)
That patience to show the dog that you will be there to guide him, gets you tons of bonus points in building trusts.
 

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There's no door.
Yes there are only hand rails, and there's a wooden support about every foot. I think this and the fact that they are open in the back are why it is so severe.
Work on one step at a time.
Treat. Repeat.

If that does not work... show the dog a big fella like him will not fall through the cracks (opening too small). Like maybe use a big stuff toy and try to show dog its not falling through the holes????

Dunno... may work.

I taught my 4 years old daughter how to float by getting her to try to pick up a sunken set of keys at the bottom of the pool... Her babyfat kept her from sinking trying to get it (she held her breathe in too)... and after that she swam like a champ!
 

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@Hueyeats
My first floor neighbor has a shepherd so I am going to ask her how he is with stairs (hopefully good) and if she'll let him show my girl.

Yeah I'll try putting stuffed animals into the gaps as soon as I can get her to tolerate being at the bottom or top of them ha.
 

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Watching others is a good idea,How I got my parents pup to go down the stairs is by watching my Rottie go up and down them,and then acting like I was going outside with the dog without him. You likely have to do it a few times though,sense it did not immediately work and the pup still gets shy on the stairs.
 

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Just for thoughts.
Reinforce "sit" both at top of steps and bottom to help prevent any dangerous impulse situations.
Helps dog to stop, think, access situations too and a good practice for asking permission for your release command (like "go!").

It's common for Pyr owners to use an older Pyr to teach a new, young Pyr.
So if your neighbour's shepherd is a friendly dog, it will aid in easing your dogs fear.
Just make sure its a positive experience, not a scary one for it.

Maybe even have your neighbour throw the shepherds' fav. toy down the steps and have it give chase while your dog watch and learn.
Then try it without any distractions for your dog, the toy chase.
Have the neighbor and dog repeat as necessary.

Do be the calm, Zen like owner. Don't get tempted to be excited in the process of getting the dog to try the steps. And practise the steps when you and the dog aren't in a hurry (needs to pee/ poo for dog).

Best of luck and wishing you much success.
 

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Here's an idea to get you through until you have a better solution:
Get yourself a piece of artificial turf. If possible, the good quality kind with longer "grass", that actually looks like a lawn. But the cheaper stuff might also work okay. You can lay it down on the porch, with puppy pads underneath. She should be perfectly happy to poop and pee on that.

My dog wouldn't poop inside his kennel, now he does it all the time on his artificial turf piece and it is super easy to clean up (area is covered). Many of my clients also use a piece of artificial turf for their dogs as they have no real grass in their backyards. Every few days, see if you can take it somewhere to hose it off. Hopefully this will make it livable until she can get over her fears, or you move! Good luck!
 

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^^^My cat as a kitty was potty trained on a potty patch with artificial grass.

We tricked the base/bottom out with her pee smell and kitty litter sprinkles.
 
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