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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
So here's my situation. I'm in a tough situation here with my dog and in need some some ideas.

My mom brought her dog here for a 2-3 week visit with me in my apartment. The dog is a 13 year old German Shepherd. She is deaf, we think she may be partially blind, and she has early symptoms of degenerative myelopathy. However, she is still walking around a happy dog.

The dog is terrified of going up and down the stairs. She won't go anywhere near them. We can't get her outside to do her business. I live on the third floor and there's no elevator. The dog is too heavy for either of us to carry up and down the stairs safely. (She's a healthy weight for her size, just a large shepherd) We tried a harness to give her more support, but she won't do it. We tried walking down in front of her, to make them look less scary. She will only go 1 down one step, then just stands there and eventually backs up. We tried putting her in a doggy swim life vest, but we couldn't pick her up in that either.

The dog is only trained to do her business outside. So we put a bunch of wee wee pads on the balcony, hoping that would give her a place to go, but she doesn't understand. I took her to the pads every 30 minutes today on a leash, trying to make it seem more like the going outside routine. But it's not working. I tried this spray at Petco that was intended to use on the pads to attract them to "go", no use. For an old dog, she has a bladder of steel and just wont go. But we can't get her down the stairs. She's been to the vet recently, so we don't think there's any new things that could be going on. She just never had to go up and down such a long staircase before. Plus the stairs don't have the panels on the vertical sides. It's literally just the steps... even I find them intimidating to go up and down and have to see the height below me.

Any ideas? Thank you!
 

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I'd phone the vet and ask for suggestions, right away. That's gotta be getting uncomfortable for her.
 

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Try food to lure her down? Get a really high value food and try to bribe her. And maybe try to block her view of the sides, with cardboard or something like that. It's going to take two or three people though, I'd think.
 

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It's probably due to the fact that she can't see them that well.

Have you seen the harnesses that have handles on the back? You could try putting one of those on her and then having both of you grab the handle and support her going down the stairs. Of course, lots of treats and pats and reassurance.
 

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Are the stairs slippery or has the dog slipped there? Some people use boots on the dog or dip its paws in coca cola or other sugary beverage to make them sticky.

Can you carry the dog downstairs together, maybe use a sheet too? What would the dog do if carried to the second last step from downstairs?

Her vision and back problems might be an issue here. Not seeing well and having a wobbly back end might make her insecure about entering apparently dangerous spaces. She is also quite old so she might have stiff joints or so that might hurt in stairs or so.

I have also noticed that if I try to lure or trick a dog into a scary place, they will resist even more. Like they knew the treat dangled in front of them and sweet talks are only tricks to get them to the stairs etc.

I have trained one dog to tolerate stairs but he was fully healthy and his fear was mild. He was also small so I could pick him up. I let him explore the corridor and get adjusted there. I tried placing treats on the steps but he did not go near them. I placed him a step away from the level I wanted him to go and supported him so he would not fall. At first he shaked wildly and was very scared. Then he realised he was not falling and he had hand supporting him. When he could climb/descend this one step, next time I placed him a step further away from the destination. After surviving three or four steps he realised he can walk the stairs without falling or slipping and started to walk all of them.

What about some form of clicker training? Well, a deaf dog cannot hear a click so you'll need something visual like a flashing light. Condition that flash = treat and then let the dog explore the staircase on loose leash. Every time she takes a step towards the stairs, looks at them, or shows any interest towards them, you flash and treat. Then slowly narrow down the criteria that produces a reward. Now the dog only gets a treat if she goes near enough, then for stepping down one step and so.

How far does your mom live and why is the dog visiting you? Would it be possible that you take the dog back to her home and care for her there? Few weeks is a short time and she is quite old so fear of stairs and rigorous training might stress her too much.
 

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Hmmm, how did she get up the three flights of steps? Has she ever gone down? If she is strongly food driven, a trail of treats she loves, leading down the steps, with you right there encouraging her might work, maybe.
 

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Bless her heart. My 12 year old big mix breed dog is finding just the few steps on my front porch more and more difficult to navigate recently. He can go down but has a hard time coming back up. I try to help give his back end a boost, but he doesn't really care for that and growls and let's me know it hurts. He's 100+ pounds of dog, so there's no way I can pick him up completely, and I'm not going to hurt him and provoke him lashing out at me (he's a sweetie and would rather do anything than bite me, but pain can make even the most tolerant dog snap).

My thoughts are there are three things that could get her down those stairs:
1. She'll eventually have to go potty badly enough that she will go down (unless she decides going on the patio/pee pads is preferable).
2. Perhaps asking the vet about some meds, both for any pain she might be in and something calming to ease her anxiety about the stairs so that she will navigate them.
3. If there is anything she absolutely LOVES (food, toy, another dog, your mom), perhaps she can be lured down.

I'd contact the vet first to see what he/she suggests. If meds can be given, hopefully those in combination with needing to go potty and being tempted by something of high value will get her down. And once she's down, I'd try to make arrangements for her to stay somewhere that doesn't require many stairs while your mom visits. :)
 

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Do the stairs have a riser on the back or are they open? Meaning, can you see between the steps?

When I first rescued mine he was similar - didn't want to go up at all, although he'd go down OK. Got used to it after two weeks, but I think his main issue was lack of risers, so the stairs seemed unstable/unsafe to him.
 

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Since it is only for a few weeks, and since you have already indicated that potty pads on the balcony would be an acceptable alternative for you, why not just make a temporary potty patch on the balcony? That sounds so much less stressful for everyone involved, to me, and can be used while the dog is learning to feel more comfortable about the stairs.

Cover the potty pads with a square of sod = instant potty patch (you might want to put a tarp down underneath it all, to reduce long-term staining/damage). Change the potty pads regularly to keep it moderately clean, and clean the whole area really thoroughly after the visit is over. Or, if you can't find a sod patch, you could make a dirt box (take a large shallow tub, like an under-bed plastic storage bin. Drill some holes for drainage. Fill with some dirt, place on top of potty pads, change potty pads regularly). People build much more complex versions intended for long-term use, but in your case, three weeks worth of dog waste should be manageable.

Good luck!
 
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