At What Age Can Puppies Climb Stairs? (Trainer Explains)

At What Age Can Puppies Climb Stairs

I was recently talking to a friend that lives in a single-story house who took her 9-month-old border collie puppy on vacation and stayed in a house with stairs. Hilarity ensued while this big puppy awkwardly try to figure up how to use the stairs.

This puppy figured out the stairs quickly and had no problem climbing the stairs by the end of their trip, but we take for granted how much our puppies have to learn and navigate as they grow up in the human world.

A 9-month-old border collie puppy is not likely to hurt themselves climbing stairs, but younger puppies have a harder time climbing big steps. Large and small breed puppies have to be careful about stairs because they can easily tumble. Their bodies are not done growing and they are awkward. Giant breeds like Great Danes have to be especially careful about their growing joints.

So this begs, the question: At what age can puppies climb stairs?

While it depends on the breed, most puppies can climb the stairs when they are around 12 weeks old. Small breeds mature much faster than larger breeds, therefore larger breeds should be at least 6 months old before you let them climb stairs. All puppies need limited activity as their joints grow.

Whether you have a Great Dane or Chihuahua puppy, it is your responsibility as a new puppy owner to understand their limits, both mentally and physically. Let’s talk about at what age you can let your puppy climb stairs, and why you need to limit not only climbing the stairs but physical activity in general.

At What Age Can Puppies Climb Stairs?

The sweet little 8-week-old puppy that you have just brought home is not only adorable but a gangling mess of legs and lack of coordination.

Puppies are clumsy and uncoordinated because they are still growing. Depending on the kind of dog you have, puppies are growing and mature until they are 6 months to 24 months old. According to Jerry Klein DVM, “The long bones in a puppy’s legs grow from two distinct places called growth plates. The growth plates are somewhat flexible and soft during puppyhood when new tissue is being formed.”

What this means is those flexible growth plates make coordination harder and your puppy more prone to joint damage and soft tissue injuries. That is why it is recommended that you limit exercise for puppies, and also be careful of what age you let them climb stairs and how much they climb stairs.

Therefore, puppies should only be allowed to climb stairs from the age of 12 weeks to 6 months, depending on the size and breed of your puppy. While that seems like a huge age difference, there is a huge difference between the growth charts of a small Yorkie puppy versus a giant Great Pyrenees. The Great Pyrenees puppy grows much slower than the Yorkshire Terrier and other dogs similar to their size.

What else determines when a puppy can climb the stairs? And what can you do to help your puppy navigate the house if you have stairs that you do not want them climbing?

What Makes Stairs Hard For Puppies?

Besides their growth plates not being fully grown, puppies have other obstacles when it comes to climbing stairs.

Your young puppy has a lot to learn about navigating the world and it can be very overwhelming for them mentally and physically. It is important to wait till they are the right age to let them go up and down stairs since climbing stairs can be difficult for them. When you bring your puppy home at 8 weeks old, some of their senses like vision are still developing. Their eyes do not even open till around 2 to 3 weeks old, and they still might have trouble with things like depth perception while climbing stairs when you bring them home.

As they age, puppies grow muscle, gain confidence and find their coordination. All things needed to successfully and safely climb stairs. While some puppies are strong enough to climb stairs at around 12 weeks old, they can still be clumsy, especially when they are tired.

Each puppy is different with their body awareness as you can see by this compilation of puppies being clumsy!

Furthermore, the type of stairs matters for a puppy’s ability to age into climbing your stairs. A steep slippery staircase that goes down into a dark basement is going to be more difficult for a puppy or dog of any age to climb.

In my house, I have stairs like that, and I kept my last puppy away from them even after I let her start climbing the brightly lit carpeted stairs. She would have been much safer if she accidentally took a tumble down the carpeted stairs than the basement stairs.

Are Stairs Bad For Puppies’ Hips?

Climbing stairs too early is bad for your puppies’ hips. Puppies are born with cartilage hips, and they need time to form and grow into bone.

Some breeds like German Shepherds are already prone to hip dysplasia so you need to take extra precautions to keep their joints safe as they are growing up. Climbing stairs at too young an age is not the only motion that can cause a puppy’s hips to be injured or exasperate hip dysplasia.

High-impact exercises like running, jogging, or biking can destroy your puppy’s sensitive joints, hips, and growth plates. Keep your puppy safe by limiting these activities as well as climbing stairs too early. 

As a professional dog trainer, when people say their puppy has too much energy and the only way to get them to calm down is to run them hard, I ask them if they would make a high-energy 7-year-old child run a marathon. Usually that gets the point across.

Some safe exercise alternatives for puppies include swimming and short walks, as well as supervised off-leashed play time in a safely fenced-in area. That way the puppy can take breaks on their own time.

If you want to physically and mentally stimulate your young puppy, you should try a short sniffari!

They are guaranteed to take a nice long nap when they get home and will have had little strain on their growing joints.

When Can Puppies Go Down Stairs?

We have established that you need to wait 12 weeks to 6 months before letting your puppy climb the stairs. It is better on their joints, specifically their hips because the cartilage is still developing. Puppies misbehave sometimes, but it is still our job to manage them and keep them safe to the best of our ability.

Furthermore, you need to be careful about your puppy not just climbing the stairs, but going down the stairs. Instead of their sensitive growing hips, going down stairs can put pressure on the cartilage on their shoulders, plus they can slip or tumble down the stairs since puppies lack coordination.

The husky puppy in the video was probably too young to climb stairs, thankfully, the puppy was taken for a checkup at the vet after that fall!

Use the same guidelines as you use for determining if your puppy can climb the stairs and when to allow them to go down the stairs. Depending on the breed and size of your puppy, they can go down the stairs from 12 weeks to 6 months old. Smaller breeds mature more quickly than larger breed dogs, who take a longer time to mature and for their growth plates to close.

Does Breed Really Matter For Puppies And Stairs?

Certain breeds are going to have a harder time climbing stairs despite their age. Extra large dogs like Great Danes have growing pains well into their second year of life because it takes them such a long time to mature.

However, if you own a large or extra large breed dog, be aware that even past puppyhood, they can develop conditions like arthritis because of the heavy weight and pressure on their joints. Therefore, you will want to limit letting them climb stairs even as adults.

Other breeds that need to be careful climbing stairs are long-backed, short-legged dogs. Recognizable breeds include Dachshunds and Corgis. Though these dogs are not giants, you still have to be careful about their physical activity once they have grown from puppies into adult dogs.

Their long backs make them prone to back problems that can plague them for life. Back issues include intervertebral disc disease, subluxations, as well as soft tissue trauma. So manage their stair climbing so they do not overextend themselves causing an injury.

All puppies and dogs are capable of injuring themselves climbing stairs, but some are more prone to it based on their confirmation. One of the best things you can do as a responsible pet owner of a dog of any breed is to make sure they are an ideal weight.

If you do not know how to tell if your dog is at a healthy weight, you might find this video helpful.

What Can I Do Instead Of Letting My Puppy Climb Stairs?

Puppies can be difficult and certainly get harder before they get easier. Sometimes when they are throwing a tantrum, it might seem reasonable to let them have what they want, including climbing stairs.

However, as a responsible puppy owner, resist the urge to let them do what they want. Remember, besides socializing and properly training your puppy, you have to keep them safe physically. This includes keeping their growing body safe from the strain of too much exercise or climbing up and down the stairs.

Management is the key to keeping your puppy’s growing body safe. Here are some helpful tips that can keep your young puppy off the stairs.

  • Stop temptation by blocking the gates with a baby gate.
  • Crate train your puppy so they are safe from climbing the stairs when left unsupervised.
  • Carry your puppy up and down the stairs until they are old enough the climb or go down the stairs.
  • Use ramps instead of allowing them to climb stairs. These ramps might come in handy when they are older and have arthritis!
  • Once they are at an appropriate age to climb the stairs (12 weeks-6 months old), use a leash to help control their speed on the stairs and prevent any tumbles or falls.

Hopefully, you will find a tip on this list that will fit your lifestyle and household until your young puppy is at a safe age to climb the stairs. You can help your puppy gain confidence and be ready to climb the stairs when they are old enough with simple training exercises to teach hind-end awareness. Exercises like those in the video below make them more aware of all four feet and less likely to trip when climbing or going down the stairs.

When your puppy is grown up enough to climb the stairs, make sure to use positive reinforcement to help them learn to climb stairs with confidence. Verbal praise and treats will make the daunting climb much easier and more fun than forcing them.

Final Thoughts

To say you can let your puppy climb stairs from 12 weeks old to 6 months old seems like a huge gap. However, not all dogs are created the same. The smallest breeds in the world weigh under 5 lbs and the biggest breeds can weigh over 200 lbs!

Regardless of size, puppies are still gaining coordination, muscle tone, and depth perception that can make climbing the stairs at a young age difficult and even dangerous. A fall down the stairs can easily cause an injury because the joints and growth plates are still developing.

The size of your puppy makes a difference in their ability to tackle things like stairs. Smaller puppies have a harder time climbing stairs because it is more work to jump up the stairs.

Bigger puppies take longer to mature and develop muscle to accommodate their large adult bodies. There is a reason that extra-large dogs do not need a lot of exercise, it can put too much pressure on their joints and cause long-term conditions like arthritis.

Even as adults, some dogs will have a hard time climbing and going down the stairs. This could be because of size or other physical traits like a long back.

Lastly, when in doubt, always consult your veterinarian about the right age to allow your dog to climb the stairs. They will know your dog and their capabilities and give you the best advice possible.

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