If you have just got a new family Labrador pup, you obviously want what is best for it in terms of health, happiness, and lifespan. You are probably aware that Labradors, and various other larger breed dogs, can experience hip problems (usually hip dysplasia) as they get older.
What age can Labradors climb stairs? Labradors should only start climbing stairs after 12 months of age, or when they become too heavy for you to carry them up and down yourself.
In some instances, fairly young adult dogs with genetic dispositions can also end up with hip dysplasia if caution isn’t practiced. You might wonder if there is anything that you can do to minimize the risk of this health affliction. If you live in a house with stairs, there is, in fact, something you can do to limit the risk of potential problems faced by your pup, now and in the future.
Most people believe that 12 weeks is old enough, but due to the fact that a Labrador is still developing until after 12 months of age and the developing hips can be damaged by wear and tear from stair climbing, it is best to avoid it until after the first year of life.
If you have been letting your Labrador pup climb up and down the stairs already, it is important to stop doing so immediately. You could be negatively impacting your dog’s development and creating costly and uncomfortable problems for both you and your pet in the future. Even if you have a fully grown Labrador, you can teach them now to stop using the stairs – for their health. Read on to learn more about the impact of stair-climbing on your pup’s physical development and how to train a puppy to use stairs safely.
Should I Let My Puppy Climb Stairs?
The simple answer is that no, you should not. Studies have shown that puppies allowed to climb up and down stairs at an early age are more prone to developing hip dysplasia. For this reason, it makes sense to carry your pup up and down the stairs or limit their access to upstairs levels. You should also not encourage your Labrador to jump until it is fully grown and even then, some caution must be taken.
It may seem like your Labrador puppy handles the stairs well, but that does not mean that there will not be resulting damage. Even though you might want your beloved pet with you all of the time – many of us do – it is just not worth the risk.
How Stairs Affect Labrador Puppy Hips & Joints
A puppy is constantly developing and growing until it reaches early adulthood. Their hip joint, in particular, is quite susceptible to damage if too much pressure and weight are put on it during the development stages. Labradors tend to be quite heavy little puppies and the action of climbing stairs can cause extra strain on the hip joint itself.
This can cause the ball and socket of the hip joint to fit incorrectly or develop in such a way that rubbing and grinding occur, instead of the smooth and sliding movement that the hip is initially designed for. This incorrect development and functionality is called hip dysplasia which will only get worse and more intense with time.
By allowing a Labrador to continue to use the stairs, it can result in discomfort, followed by deterioration of the joint and finally even eventual loss of function of the actual joint. This could render your Labrador immobile or result in painful movement. In some Labradors, this has been seen at a fairly early age. Please read our article 14 Common Labrador Health Problems to learn more about hip dysplasia and other issues.
How to Train a Puppy on Stairs
Should you train your Labrador pup to use the stairs? The best policy to have when it comes to your Labrador using the stairs is to discourage it completely. Even though it has been mentioned that Labradors should not use the stairs until they are older than 12 months, even after that, stair use should be very limited. You should only allow your Lab very occasional stair use.
How can you ensure that your puppy doesn’t get hurt by the stairs? Training is a key element to making sure that stair use doesn’t lead to physical damage and deterioration of your Labrador pup. The best training you can do is teaching your puppy not to use the stairs.
You can train your puppy to not use the stairs by following these training tips:
- Get your own mindset right first, before you begin training. When you establish the stairs are a no-go zone, it is important to never let that rule slide and to ensure that every family member reinforces the rule and never slips up. Once you and everyone else is on board, training can begin.
- Create an effective deterrent on the stairs that will serve as a reminder to the pup that stairs are not allowed. You can use sticky shelf liner or tin foil placed on the first few stairs and the lead-up to the stairs.
- Provide an opportunity for the dog to access the stairs and if he/she attempts to go up, gently physically reposition the dog away from the stairs.
- Verbally reiterate that stairs are a “no” zone. As your dog tries to go up the stairs, repeat “no stairs” and point away from the stairs. This will need to be repeated often.
If your dog decides to push the boundaries and try the stairs even though you have indicated it is not to be done, you need to recall the pup and physically block the stairs with your body until he turns back and heads away (or stops trying). If your dog listens and moves away from the stairs, you can provide a small treat or shower your dog with praise, so that he makes a positive connection with staying away from the stairs.
How to Make Stairs Safe for Your Labrador
Even with ongoing training, there may be times when your Labrador attempts to climb the stairs without you knowing. Making the stairs safe is important.
You can affix non-slip strips to each stair to ensure that your dog does not slip down the stairs. You should also ensure that you do not leave any items lying on the stairs that could cause your dog to slip/trip or even attempt to jump over while climbing the stairs. This can result in serious injury.
Of course, if you encounter your dog climbing the stairs, resist raising your voice, chasing her off, or scaring her. Startling your dog can result in a fall or tumble which can cause further injury and damage. It can also result in the dog causing other people to fall if on the stairs.
The best way to make your stairs safe for your Labrador is to incorporate a stair gate to provide a physical barrier. A baby gate is popularly used, but there are also various pet gates available on the market.
Labrador Behavior | Dos and Don’ts on the Stairs
How you interact and engage with your Labrador puppy will tell him/her everything that is required in terms of behavior. If you do not want your puppy to grow into a dog that behaves incorrectly on the stairs, you will need to teach the correct behavior from day 1. Sometimes family members fail in this area. Below is a list of dos and don’ts for your Labrador on the stairs:
- Labradors should only be allowed to climb the stairs on occasion, once fully developed.
- Teach your Labrador to never climb the stairs but rather to sit at the bottom of the stairs and wait for you.
- Teach the Labrador that if they are to use the stairs, it is done slowly and carefully (patience and impulse training is good for this). It is important that your dog knows how to handle itself even in a situation that is “not allowed”.
- Never throw your Labrador’s toys up or down the stairs. If you need to play a game of fetch, do it on the ground floor or outside.
- Do not call your dog from upstairs or engage with or talk to your dog as you are descending/ascending the stairs. It is only natural for the dog to want to come to you when spoken to.
- Do not teach the dog to quickly get off the stairs if he/she has started climbing them.
- Don’t allow the kids to rush up and down the stairs. They too must take them slowly, to keep reiterating that that’s how it is done.
While most Labrador pups will want to run up and down the stairs with their human family members, it is important to take a mature and responsible approach to the situation. Allowing your Labrador pup to go up and down the stairs can result in painful and expensive hip dysplasia in the near future. There are plenty of other areas in the home and outside where you can interact and engage with your pets – rather leave the upper levels strictly for human occupation.