Service Dog Column: Stair practice

by Carlene White

Hi! My name is Jack. I am finally seven months old and ready to tell you about the stair-climbing lessons we have had.

I finally “achieved boredom” by ignoring people smells, trucks’ air brakes, and meat counters, and I am ready to concentrate getting my special person up a flight of stairs.

Before now, I never realized how difficult it is for a special person to climb stairs or even get up the curb to the supermarket. Normally, I would plant two paws on step number three and, with one leap, bounce to the top and wag my tail. No problem.

I now find there are special people who have trouble with even one step.

Danes can have trouble locating and managing their four feet and stairs. Someone planned ahead. Our kennels have a four-step flight of stairs up to our sleeping lofts, so I have had plenty of practice getting my own four feet up and down those stairs many times daily.

Thankfully, humans have only two feet. I never could manage to get a four-legged human up a flight of stairs. It would just be too complicated.

We started learning stairs at a hotel that has a set of five carpeted steps to a landing.

We start by pausing at the bottom to give our human a chance to locate the handrail.

We very slowly put our two front paws up two steps and wait for the human to grab the handrail. Then they put their foot number one on step number one and lean forward.

I give a steady pull as they get their weight on foot number one. They have the handrail to help as they balance on one foot and try and get the toe of foot two to clear the kick plate of step one.

It can be a terrible problem if they have trouble lifting the toe of foot two — a problem some special people seem to have. I stay very steady, because getting foot two on step one can take a while.

I still have two of my back feet on the floor where we started, and if there is too much confusion, I will get them underneath me to give a big push if needed. Just being big helps.

Assuming my person has cleared the ridge and now has both feet on step one, we can take a breath and are all set to go for step number two.    

That is “up.” Next week, we can do “down.” In the meantime, be very thankful if you have a fully functioning toe on foot two.


Carlene White is founder and president of the non-profit Service Dog Project on Boxford Road in Ipswich. She trains and raises Great Danes to donate to the mobility impaired. Read more of her columns here.


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