Why Does My Dog Keep Running Upstairs? (Vet Tech Explains)

Why Does My Dog Keep Running Upstairs

As any dog owner will attest, our four-legged friends like to explore and behave in ways we don’t always comprehend. Plenty of us live in houses or apartments that have stairs, and we don’t think much of it (other than sometimes despising the short workout before bed).

Our pups, on the other hand, can’t seem to resist the urge to ascend those steps and investigate what is on the other side of them!

Whether you allow your dog to visit the second story of your home or not, they still manage to find their way upstairs at some point in time. They just can’t seem to keep their paws on the ground floor!

But what is this fascination with walking up that staircase and why do our dogs keep going upstairs? What about going upstairs by themselves?

Dogs regularly go upstairs for a few reasons, most involve your presence. They may want to spend time with you or are suffering from separation anxiety, they’ve been encouraged to, or they’re just bored. If they’re going upstairs alone, it could indicate fear, illness, searching for comfort, or even just getting some alone time in. 

Let’s put on our walking shoes and take a step towards better understanding our pups’ peculiar behaviors, dissecting what and when they do it and why!

Why Does My Dog Keep Running Upstairs?

First, let’s answer your main question!

Reason 1: Your Dog Wants To Be With You

Our dogs undoubtedly love us and cherish us, considering we give them food, water, toys, shelter, affection- everything and more! And while some dog breeds are more independent than others, you may have a rather cuddly furry friend, always by your side at a moment’s notice.

If your pooch follows you around downstairs, wanting to be part of the action, then it is understandable why he would also naturally follow you up the staircase!

He may not necessarily care about anything upstairs, but because you are hanging out there, he wants to join you. Maybe he’s used to sleeping in bed with you and that is causing him to go upstairs as well, either for bedtime filled with snuggles or a quick power nap!

One factor to be aware of is if your dog is a “velcro” dog, which is more intense shadowing behavior than your dog just enjoying your company. You’ll notice your pup sitting next to you every second you’re together, begging to join you on car rides, breathing on your ankles going up those stairs, and overall showing some pretty clingy behaviors.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and some owners love that their dog is overly needy! However, you have to be careful as there is a thin line between being clingy and dealing with separation anxiety.

If you’re comfortable with your dog traversing the stairs and aren’t concerned about any excessively dependent behavior, then this reasoning shouldn’t be an issue for you in the slightest.

Instead, rejoice in the fact that your pup loves being with you!

Reason 2: Separation Anxiety

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety will become distressed over any triggers that lead them to think you’re leaving them alone. Whether it be putting your shoes on in the morning, closing the door to take a shower, or even walking towards the front door. The presenting symptoms can vary based on your individual dog, ranging from minimal to severe.

Give this video a watch to learn more about this common ailment before we talk about why it may be the cause of your pup going upstairs with you so frequently!

Going upstairs may trigger separation anxiety to swell in your pup, and because of this fear of not being by your side or losing sight of you, they will follow you right up those steps with no hesitation.

There are ways to help ease your dog if he’s dealing with separation anxiety, but don’t give in to it! I recently fostered a senior chocolate lab who got abandoned in the fields near where I live, and his separation anxiety was severe. After one day, he was glued to my hip.

It took me a few weeks of training just for him to not freak out as I walked up the stairs, and another few weeks to lengthen the time I was upstairs without him. Even then, he would sometimes wake me up in the middle of the night by jumping on my bed, having busted through the pet gate!

It’s not easy to handle a dog coping with separation anxiety, but you don’t have to do it alone. Consult with your veterinarian about behavior modification through training and anxiety medications that you can try to ease your pup’s suffering.

Your dog going upstairs, especially with you, isn’t desirable in this case as it only strengthens the separation anxiety at play.

Reason 3: You’ve Trained Your Dog To Do So

If your dog is going upstairs often, you might be the reason why. And hear me out! Dogs pick up on behaviors quickly, and even if you’ve encouraged him to come upstairs only a few times, that is enough for him to keep doing it. But why?

By inviting your dog upstairs and giving him praise and affection for doing so, your dog will want to continue seeking out those positive rewards. They’ll also realize that going upstairs isn’t frowned upon, so they’re more inclined to continue this action. This is accidental reinforcement.

Another situation where you’ve subconsciously trained your dog to go upstairs is if you’ve carried him up as a puppy to let him hang out with you before he could scale the steps on his own. As your furry friend ages, he will understand this to be normal and go upstairs just to hang out. He was never told that you’d prefer the second floor to be off-limits, so he doesn’t know any different!

Neither of these is necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you enjoy having your dog upstairs with you.

Where it may prove troublesome for you is if you don’t want your dog going upstairs, but you’ve let him in bed with you on a few occasions (encouraging him) due to fear-inducing situations such as storms, and fireworks, and now he goes upstairs in general.

Your dog has learned that your bed upstairs is a safe, comfortable place. And even if he’s not scared, who would pass up a comfy bed to snooze away in? He thinks, well it was acceptable for some situations, so it must be acceptable for all situations, right?

Reason 4: Boredom

How often do you exercise, train, and play with your dog? How long are you away from home without your canine companion?

If your pup is going upstairs, it could be that he is bored and looking for something interesting to play with!

Whether the second story of your home is new territory your dog has yet to explore, there is something upstairs that piques his interest, or there is a special corner of the carpet that is dying to be chewed up, you reliably find your dog going upstairs.

No matter the exact reason, your dog is likely bored and his curiosity leads him up those steps in search of anything to captivate his mind.

Instead, there are several excellent ways to keep your dog’s mind active and tire it out. Mental enrichment is just as important as the physical counterpart, and several research studies have emerged reflecting the importance of this. With more involvement in environmental enrichment activities, dogs were recorded to engage in more relaxation behaviors and less stress behaviors.

This suggests that the more activities your dog participates in, the more mentally satisfied he becomes- inevitably curing his boredom and leaving you with a tuckered-out pooch!

Seeing your dog go upstairs only at specific times may also lead to this explanation. You may find him roaming around the second floor right before your daily exercise regime, before playtime, or if he’s been kept inside of a crate for a longer period of time.

All of these circumstances can create pent-up energy for your dog resulting in boredom as they haven’t had those outlets for mental and physical exercise yet!

Check out this detailed video for some more information on what to do when your dog is bored:

Why Does My Dog Go Upstairs By Himself?

Oftentimes, we find our pups going upstairs for a multitude of reasons (most involving our presence), but what reason would they have to go upstairs by themselves?

Reason 5: Fear

Pay attention to the times in which you find your dog meandering upstairs alone. If he only does this when you have family and friends visiting or when loud noises such as fireworks or thunderstorms are present, it could be due to fear.

Dogs exhibit fear in what scientists label the “Four F’s”: flight, fight, freeze, and flirt/fidget (think of submission for this last one). Your pup could show one or a few of these responses, depending on the conflict presented.

A study published in 2017 revealed that while dogs may exhibit any of these behavioral responses, the most prevalent response to a fear stimulus, whether social or non-social, was evasion and freezing!

Going upstairs to try and avoid a scary event would mean your dog is using the flight response. He wants to get as far away from the perceived threat as possible and if that is humans arriving at your front door, then the second story would be an ideal place to run to!

If you find your pooch hiding under your bed, in his crate, or even behind something while upstairs alone, it is likely he is experiencing fear or even illness (which we will explore below).

Your dog being fearful of a certain stimulus and ultimately causing him to go upstairs to find a place to hide should ideally be addressed. The ongoing fear that your dog is experiencing has been shown to lead to a decreased lifespan and an increased likelihood of developing various medical issues, so it’s crucial to find the root of this fear and work toward a solution.

We want our pups to live long, healthy, and fulfilling lives by our side!

Reason 6: Comfort

Maybe you’ve set up a pet camera to watch your furry friend while you’re away, and you can’t help but notice that he tends to frequent the second story of your home. Yet when you get home, his interest in those steps diminishes and he’s instead pleading for attention from you.

It could be that your pooch is going upstairs by himself to seek out comfort in an item that smells like you!

Scientists have found that our dogs’ impressive sniffers can not only detect scent better than humans can, but they can also recognize their owner’s unique scent from a handful of options. Not only that but inhaling the owner’s smell was shown to actually invoke a pleasurable and positive response for every dog in the study.

I mean, just take a look at this video where a dog doesn’t visually recognize his owner until he gives him a sniff, and then the uncontrollable excitement ensues!

So, your dog could be missing you or feeling anxious about being alone, and your scent really helps calm him down while you’re gone.

And what better place to seek out than your bed, a frequently used item that’s (typically) found in a bedroom upstairs, filled to the brim with the familiar scent of you, your dog’s beloved owner!

Reason 7: To Be Alone

Though all dogs normally do enjoy some amount of affection, attention, and cuddles from you, there are certain breeds (and individuals) that are more independent and cherish their alone time more.

Don’t take this to heart or worry that something is wrong, as dogs are social animals, just like humans! We value both time spent with loved ones and time spent alone, and the latter often helps us recharge, relax, and get back to feeling our outgoing selves.

This may also be why you notice your pup sleeping downstairs or even in another room, as they just need some time and rest away from the hustle and bustle of the human world. Don’t we all?

So, if your dog wants some time to himself, you may notice him going up the staircase, especially while you are downstairs hanging out.

Take note to see if there is a specific spot upstairs where you continuously find your dog relaxing. Maybe it’s a cozy corner in one of the rooms, a dog bed you set up just for him, or the bathroom tile floor.

Your pooch could be seeking out his favorite place in your home as it makes him feel safe and relaxed. This will allow him to bask in the peace and quiet for some much-needed alone time to recoup and prepare for your next cuddle session!

Reason 8: Physical Illness

I couldn’t count for you the amount of times I have wished at work that we could speak to dogs and understand them right back. Life would be so much simpler if our furry friends could tell us how they’re feeling and why!

We can only make educated guesses based on what we’ve learned about observing dog behavior and using this as a way our pups can “speak” to us. And one thing is widely agreed upon: if your dog is hiding or isolating himself constantly, it’s likely something is wrong.

If you can’t seem to find your pooch around the house in places he normally is, only to find him hidden away somewhere upstairs alone (without any possible fear triggers present), consider making an appointment with your veterinarian.

Dogs going upstairs by themselves consistently combined with a lack of interest in basic things may indicate a physical ailment that your dog is dealing with. They don’t feel well, so naturally they will want to find a spot that keeps them hidden and gives them protection, safety, and quietness.

Compare this behavior with other symptoms that may indicate a form of illness to see if this may be the reason why your dog is going upstairs, especially by himself.

How Can I Change This Behavior?

For one reason or another, you want to try and stop your dog from going upstairs so often. Maybe your dog is aging or a teeny puppy and the stairs pose a fall risk, maybe your dog likes to pee on the carpet, maybe you want a peaceful night of sleep without dealing with pet dander and hair, or maybe you just want the upstairs to be a humans-only place of solace.

Luckily, there are ways you can alter your dog’s behavior and teach him to stop going up those steps and you can read all about it in our article by clicking here!

For a physical barrier, pet gates and baby gates are the front runners. And for those who are content with stepping over a gate forever, this offers a quick and permanent solution.

If you aren’t one to practice your hurdles over a gate like I did growing up, then you can try deterrent sprays or sticky tape. These offer a kind of sensory barrier at the base of your staircase, the former affecting the sense of smell and the latter affecting touch.

The most important method and the only way to solve the actual root of the problem behavior is positive reinforcement training. Rewarding your dog for ways you want him to act and redirecting his unwanted behaviors to the desirable ones can help retrain your dog’s brain that going upstairs isn’t allowed. Rather, they’ll be focused on performing commands and behaviors that yield a pleasant reward at the end!

Understand that you will need to have patience and consistency with this process, as dogs won’t adapt to a new expectation or rule with the snap of a finger.

Training takes time, but you will reap a wonderful reward!

Closing Thoughts

There are a variety of reasons that your dog may be going upstairs, and even more, if he’s going upstairs by himself. While most of the explanations as to why this behavior happens are not immediately worrisome, there are a few possibilities that indicate a deeper issue that should be addressed.

If your dog is sick, fearful, or dealing with separation anxiety, determine the root of the cause and work toward remedying your pup’s suffering.

And if you’re worrying about any of these possibilities, see your veterinarian! It’s better to get a professional opinion to give you and your furry friend some peace of mind.

Some pet owners don’t mind if their dog explores the second story of their home, whereas others want to change this behavior and limit their pups to the first story only. Being in the latter group, there are several ways you can stop your dog from running up those steps, though the most effective way to fix the behavior altogether is to retrain your pooch that the upstairs is a no-no zone!

And if you love it when your pooch joins you for a bedtime cuddle and feel confident that he simply just loves you, then cherish the bond you have and live on!

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