We have a 9 1/2 year old pom/spitz mix who recently had knee surgery to repair a torn ACL ligament (over one month ago). His other knee is in bad shape as well but the vet wants to wait and see if it will also require surgery, since it was not in as bad condition as the one he operated on. My dog is now getting back to normal in terms of walking and has no trouble going down any stairs. The problem is he refuses to go up although the vet says he should now be able to. Because of his truly stubborn nature as well as the fact that he may also be a bit lazy and spoiled (thanks to us of course), we do not know how to re-train him to go up the stairs, which he seems afraid and/or unwilling to even attempt. It has made our lives extremely difficult because for instance when he goes outside very early in the morning as he is used to doing, we always need to go outside to get him back up the stairs. Do you have any help or suggestions for us? We have already tried treats at the top of the stairs but that has not worked, and just leaving him bark is no option because of the neighbors. Help!
Thanks for writing in! While you originally wrote in asking our vet your question, we felt that this was more of a behavioral/training issue as opposed to a medical one, so I hope you’re alright with me answering it to the best of my ability.
To begin with, I am happy to hear that your dog is recovering well from his ACL surgery. The healing process can take some time, especially with older dogs, but your guy sounds like he’s coming along well, other than the not wanting to come back up the stairs.
I think you’re right on the mark when you mention that your dog might be afraid to climb up the stairs since his surgery. From what you describe, this sounds very real to me. Pain and the need to feel safe can really dictate how a dog behaves, and how they make their choices.
You mention that you’ve tried coaxing him up the stairs with treats at the top of the stairs, but that he hasn’t been interested. I think you’re on the right track there though, and might just need to fine tune things a bit. I would continue using treats to coax him up the stairs, but only one stair at a time, and not from the very top, as that may seem a bit daunting. I’d also make sure to use something he really, really cannot resist, something like cooked chicken, sausage, or cheese.
I’d keep the food a few inches from his muzzle, and coax him with a happy voice, while wriggling your fingers, and only moving forward when he does. The proximity of the reward to his mouth will also matter a lot to him as well. So, the closer the better!
If he’s still a bit hesitant, then I’d try to make the stairs smaller, per say, so that he has less to climb. Perhaps using some books stacked on one stair, to make the climb a little easier may be just what your little guy needs to take that first step. Once he learns that climbing the stairs is rewarding, and doesn’t hurt him, then he should be on his way to climbing them again just as he used to before his surgery.
I have every faith in you succeeding, as you were on the right track to begin with!
Good luck and happy training!