Golden Labrador


Until one week ago, four-year-old Lily lived in a house that had carpet wall to wall and a gate at the bottom of the stairs. Now circumstances have meant she’s had to move in with the gentleman who has her brother, Sox.

He lives in a town house with the living area upstairs, which requires climbing a narrow and longish flight of stairs. Only the kitchen is on the ground floor.

In Lily’s old home where she had lived since she was a puppy, the stairs were gated and the man is sure that she had never in her life been upstairs. Another difference is that her old home was carpeted throughout. Only the stairs are carpeted here and she’s only just getting accustomed to walking on the laminate floor.

On the day she arrived, a week ago, after hesitating for a few minutes Lily ran upstairs after Sox. All was well until they wanted to come down again. She refused. She quite literally dug her heels in. The gentleman put her harness on in an effort to walk her down, but she was in a blind panic.

Eventually after over four hours and knowing she must need to go outside, the man picked her up and carried her down. She froze, terrified.

Now, knowing that going up the stairs will mean coming back down again, she simply refuses to lift her back feet off the floor – not even for food, and, a typical Labrador, she loves her food. She will stretch forward but not take even one step with her back legs. The man has tried all the bribery he can think of.  When everyone else including Sox is upstairs in the evening, Lily will cry for a little while at the bottom of the stairs before taking herself to her bed.

Because her history is known, it’s pretty certain Lily has had no previous negative experiences with stairs. She has happily run up and down narrow flights of stone steps when out, so pain isn’t involved.

The gentleman had a gate at the bottom of his stairs to shut Sox down during the night, so I suggested he removed it just in case Lily’s previous programming meant she would be reluctant to pass it. We tried putting it about eight steps up instead, hoping this would raise the barrier.

Asking the man to stay in the kitchen in case she associated negatives with him when he had carried her down, I sat a few stairs up to call her to me, to see if had any better luck.

Golden Labrador with ball


She did come to me for food – her back legs climbing to the third stair – and then she turned around and ran back down again!  She did the same thing a second time. She wouldn’t do it a third time.

I continued on and off over the next two hours, taking a break from my conversation with the man about one or two other issues, using food and also playing ball around the stairs, but Lily just felt unable to do it again. I suggested he has a rug on the floor at the bottom of the stairs to make it as easy for her as possible.

If my strategy worked a couple of times then it has the potential to work again, so for the next week the gentleman is going to continue with what I was doing, in the hope that Lily will repeat the process for him.

If things go as planned, he can, one step at a time, gradually work his way up the stairs. When she does eventually get a bit higher, it could be best if he sat in front of her and went back down the stairs on his back side with the dog behind him!

Although she left the floor a couple of times for me we don’t know yet whether this will work for the gentleman, but from my own assessment at the time it seems the simplest and quickest method to give Lily confidence in going up, and most particularly back down, the stairs.

If no progress is made after a week or so I shall go again and we will work out another, less direct, tactic and one that may not involve work actually around the stairs themselves initially.

Lily is a happy, friendly dog and will have a great life living with the man and her brother, Sox. She has some adjusting to do and could well be feeling generally unsure with having lost her previous owner and all the new things in her life at the moment.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lily. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).