Lucy Lessons: How an Old Dog Overcame Her Fear

We finally moved.

No more one story ranch house. We are now climbing two sets of stairs daily in a cozy three-story townhouse in This is a picture of my black lab mix, Lucy, at the top of the stairs looking frightened.the heart of the city. The move itself was the usual pain in the butt. Lucy stayed at the Petshotel because she’s a bit anxious to begin with. And at 12 years old, I thought the move might put her over the edge. So I left her at the PetSmart Petshotel for four days. Don’t think she didn’t love it; she got the Bizzy Bundle package, after all. Who wouldn’t love a peanut butter snack Kong and dish of doggy ice cream at the end of the day after playtime?

By the day I picked her up, we’d unpacked about two-thirds of the boxes. The new place was still a mess, but there were definite walkways to navigate. Lucy was super excited to see me, but when we finally made our way downtown after the school pick up, she was totally perplexed as to why we were in this unfamiliar house.

She took one look at the staircase leading up to the main level and balked.  Even as my son and I coaxed her with new treats and tried pulling her leash, she would not go up. When I yanked a little harder, her legs didn’t cooperate and she stumbled and fell.  It was as if Lucy had never, ever seen a flight of stairs in her life! And then I realized, she hadn’t. We’d always lived on one story. She had no idea how to climb stairs.

That night, she whimpered in her crate pathetically for a while before finally falling asleep. Anxiety crept into my dreams, waking me up in the darkness. What if she never figured out how to climb stairs? What if moving to a townhouse was a huge mistake? What if she hurt herself?

The next morning, I let Lucy out of the crate and tried, in my most upbeat doggie voice, to make going down the stairs sound like a trip to the squirrel zoo. But she cowered in the kitchen.

I changed my tactics and stood at the bottom of the stairs, calling her and rattling her leash like I used to do when it was time for a walk.

She fled to her crate.

Finally, I went back up the stairs, put the leash on her and coaxed her down by pulling, but she tumbled at the bottom, landing awkwardly with a sickening combination of claws and bone on slate tile. After checking her for injury and determining she was ok, I started to worry that Lucy was only going to be able to live on the first floor. There’s only one bedroom down there and it would be a lonely, terrible existence. It was not an option. We wanted her upstairs with us. She had to learn the stairs.

There was only one choice. I had to bring out the big guns: Cheddar and Monterey Jack.

For several hours that morning, I used little bits of cheese to entice Lucy to go up and down one stair. Then two. Then three. And so on. Then she napped. We did another round of practice that afternoon.

And you know what? It worked! She was exhausted, but she was no longer petrified of the stairs.

Three days later and now she goes up and down with ease. The one downside? She thinks she deserves cheese every time she makes it to the top!


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