Dog people want to spend every waking (and sleeping) moment with our dogs. They’re part of our family, see us as their “pack,” and we cherish every minute we get to spend with them.
For many of us, this also includes bringing them upstairs with us when we go to bed at night. Sleeping with our dogs — while frowned on by some — is a great way to strengthen our bond with them, and they will usually be happy to join us at bedtime.
But what if your dog doesn’t want to follow you upstairs? Is it something you did, or does she just not love you anymore? Doubtful. It’s probably for a perfectly understandable reason which might even be possible to correct if you can figure it out.
If you’re wondering why your dog won’t come upstairs with you at night, you’re in luck. I’ve listed some of the most common reasons in this post, along with solutions to help! Keep reading to find out how you can convince your pooch to follow you next time you head upstairs.
Stairs are more difficult for dogs to navigate than humans, as their body composition is different than ours. If your dog has been happy to come upstairs with you but recently stopped wanting to, a trip to the vet is in order. Sudden changes in behavior of any kind warrant a trip to the vet because they often indicate pain or illness of some kind.
Your pup, like all dogs, is an expert at keeping these things a secret — but he’s trying to tell you in his own way by changing his behavior.
Issues that might affect a dog’s ability to walk up the stairs comfortably might be joint pain, arthritis, or another type of illness that makes her feel weaker than usual.
If they’re moving slower than usual, sleeping more, changing their eating habits, or you’re noticing any other little weird behaviors along with the stairs issue, your dog is trying to tell you something’s not quite right. He can’t verbalize his feelings like you can, so reading between the lines is important.
What to Do
Above all else, get pups to the vet asap. Sudden behavior changes always warrant a vet check, as they’re usually a big red flag that something’s wrong. It might be a minor issue that’s easily remedied, but if it’s something more serious, you’ll want to know sooner than later.
Other things you can do in the meantime are move his bed downstairs, spend more time with him wherever he’s most comfortable, or maybe even consider sleeping downstairs with him while you figure things out. Your presence will be the most comforting thing for him when he’s not feeling well, so help him wherever you can.
Before I got my dog, I volunteered at my local shelter for several years, which sometimes meant bringing shelter dogs home for the night. I was head over heels for this hound mix that had been there for a while, so I brought her home as a trial run for a potential adoption. The problem? She was petrified of the stairs leading up to my apartment!
If I had known then what I know now about dog behavior and training, I might have made it work. But carrying a 50lb dog up and down stairs to use the bathroom sadly wasn’t within my capabilities at the time, so I had to take her back.
When dogs aren’t socialized well as puppies, they can grow to be fearful of all sorts of ridiculous things. Successful socialization means exposing them to anything and everything possible, and making it a fun, rewarding experience.
If your pup wasn’t exposed to stairs at a young age or you’ve recently moved into a home with stairs, there’s a very good chance she’s just confused about what these strange things are! New = scary to some dogs, so the stairs might be causing some fear for her.
What to Do
Luckily, this might not be a permanent problem. Counter conditioning and desensitization training can teach your fearful pup that the stairs are a fun place to be, and that good things happen when she uses them. Rewards like treats, play, or praise (or any combination of those) can make the stairs seem less scary over time.
Not only that, but she gets to snuggle (or be in the same room) with you all night, which is the ultimate reward in her eyes! Just remember to be patient and take it slow. She’ll get the idea when she’s ready.
Puppies are little bundles of joy and bringing one home is tons of fun for the whole family. But they also have their own little quirks that humans don’t always understand, like chewing on furniture, going potty in the house, and being unsure of certain things we take for granted — like stairs.
As I mentioned earlier, being afraid of new things is a normal part of puppyhood, and while it’s confusing and can even be frustrating to humans, it’s our job to teach puppies what’s safe in their new homes.
Another reason puppies might find the stairs daunting is the simple matter of their physical size: sometimes their little legs just can’t manage the climb! As they grow (and they grow incredibly quickly most of the time), the stairs will seem like less of a challenge, and they’ll be happy to race you upstairs every chance they get.
For now, just carry them when you head up for the night. It’s a good idea to get a couple of baby gates for the top and bottom, too, so they don’t attempt the stairs on their own and accidentally get hurt.
What to Do
If your puppy is big enough to climb the stairs but still won’t follow you up, they’re probably just afraid of the new thing they don’t understand yet.
Reward-based training will work wonders here, and before you know it your pup will be a stair-climbing pro! Offer little bits of yummy food (and lots of praise) every time they’re near the stairs, and for each one they attempt to climb.
Slow and steady is the name of the game here, so go at their pace and be as patient as you can. The good news is, puppies learn quickly, so it won’t take too much time if you stick with it!
It’s More Comfortable Downstairs
Depending on the layout and different temperature zones of your house, your pooch may just be staying downstairs because it’s more comfortable there. If your downstairs is cooler in the summer or warmer in the winter, he’s probably just keeping cool or staying warm, depending on the weather at the moment.
Dogs regulate their body temperature differently that we do, so they rely more on their external environment to stay comfortable — your dog is simply using his instincts, which is a good thing!
Another reason your dog might be more comfortable downstairs is because that’s where her favorite sleeping spot is. Does she have a favorite pillow, dog bed, or spot on the couch? Maybe her crate is down there and that’s where she prefers to sleep?
Dogs have all sorts of little quirks and characteristics that we don’t understand, but a little research might help to solve the mystery. It could be as simple as bringing something upstairs with you that solves the issue once and for all!
What to Do
If your pup is staying downstairs because of temperature preferences, your options might be a little more limited.
Unless you can sleep with the windows open on warmer nights or you’re ok with heating the upstairs for a little longer when it’s cold, she might just decide that downstairs is her preferred sleeping place after all.
You could also try adding more comfy bedding to entice her when it’s colder or offering her a spot in bed with you if that’s something you’re ok with.
On warm nights, leaving the windows open and turning on fans might be enough to keep her more comfortable. Try whatever you can until you find something that works!
Like humans, dogs come with their own histories that we don’t always know about. Especially when it comes to rescue dogs, there may have been an incident in your pup’s past that you’re unaware of, which can be responsible for a host of unexplained behaviors on his part.
Sadly, dogs can’t verbalize their past experiences, so this leaves their humans to do the guesswork — which can be a rabbit hole of a situation that just gets deeper the more you try to figure it out!
When it comes to stairs, the possibilities of reasons for the trauma are pretty widely varied.
Maybe he fell down a flight of stairs as a puppy, or someone was mean to him when he was walking up the stairs at some other point in his life.
The main point is, he’s associated the stairs with a scary experience, and to him, the stairs themselves might seem like the source of his trauma.
This is a situation that requires extreme care and understanding on your part, but over time, it may very well be possible to change his view of the stairs to one that he doesn’t associate with fear, pain, or some other negative feeling.
What to Do
If past trauma is the suspected cause of your dog’s aversion to the stairs, tread lightly. Enlist the help of a professional, positive reinforcement dog trainer, if possible, as you’ll want to be sure you get this right the first time.
If a trainer isn’t available to you, the best way forward is similar to that of a new puppy: slow and steady, making the stairs seem like a safe, fun place where great things happen.
Offer special treats that he wouldn’t get otherwise when he even gets near the stairs, and more as he eventually tries to climb them.
Going at his pace is even more important here, as one wrong move can set him back.
Just be as patient, loving, and kind as you can, and be ok with him potentially not being an upstairs dog if that’s just not what he wants.