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One step at a time

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Funny what we can learn from our dogs. This past weekend, my wife and I both learned some valuable life lessons from Travis.

When we bought the cottage, the stairs to 2nd level were really more of a ladder than stairs, and so the upstairs went unused. Even for us, it was tricky to get down in the middle of the night. The dogs absolutely refused to go up and down. Therefore, one of the first things I did was to tear down the old stairs and build a new set of stairs at a more relaxed angle. Its still steeper than code, but much more tolerable. The dogs also found this acceptable and immediately started going upstairs to sleep with us, except for Travis. Travis would just sit at the bottom and stare forlornly up the stairs, and finally shuffle off to the bathtub to spend the night alone.

We had tried to coax him to go up the stairs, but he was terrified. Just picking him up and putting him on the bottom step would cause him to start trembling and panicking. He was just petrified. This was the status quo for the last two years.

Then, a couple weekends ago, Travis just sat at the bottom of the stairs crying. After 20 minutes of trying to sleep and of listening to him cry and claw at the stairs, I got fed up, went downstairs, picked him up, and carried him upstairs. For the first time, he saw the upstairs and was able to sleep with the rest of the family.

But, 120 lbs terrified GSD + steep stairs = something you only do once. I was not about to try that again. So this past weekend, on Friday night, when he started whining and trying to get upstairs, my wife and I decided to just leave him. He’ll tire himself out and go to sleep. We both slept quite fitfully. All through the night, we kept getting woken up by the sounds of him trying to climb the stairs, crying and whining.

Finally, at 5:30 am I hear the click-click-clicking of a dog walking into the room, but otherwise silence. I crack open an eye and there in the room stands Travis, proud as can be. For 6 hours he fought those stairs! 6 hours of struggling, of jumping off, getting back on. 6 hours of facing what I can only imagine was one of his worst fears, in the dark, on his own.

I wake my wife up, who stares at Travis in disbelief. After much hugs and kisses, all 6 of us found a spot on the mattress and slept. Saturday night, within 5 minutes he was upstairs sleeping soundly.

I feel so proud, yet somehow humbled and more than a little awed; like I witnessed something profound.

A life lesson from a dog…

“One step at a time.”

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Trust me, we tried. Food, praise, everything.

Our approach in the past was to get him to come up one step to get a food reward. However, prior to this weekend, his back feet never left the ground.

The problem was that he was clearly very stressed when were trying to do this (he'd start trembling, crying and whining) so we decided it just wasn't worth putting him through the stress and stopped.

He just decided that he was going to go up for some reason.

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