Are Stairs Bad for German Shepherds?


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German Shepherds are known as athletic, loyal, and extremely intelligent dogs. While they love to exercise and be active, there is still a question surrounding how good the stairs are for these wonderful dogs.   

Are stairs bad for German Shepherds? Stairs are not bad for healthy German Shepherds. However, limiting their use of stairs is ideal since the breed is prone to hip and elbow dysplasia. If your dog suffers from either of those conditions, then reduce their use of stairs. Puppies should not use stairs until they are at least 3 months old.

As with any animal, you want to make sure they are comfortable doing any task and are safe and healthy in the process. There are some easy best practices to follow to ensure your German Shepherd can tackle stairs with no issues, and when you may need to help them. 

German Shepherd Dog laying at the top of the stairs. Are Stairs Bad for German Shepherds?
My German Shepherd Willow at the top of the stairs

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To learn more about whether stairs are bad for German Shepherds, read on!

Healthy German Shepherds and Stairs

If your German Shepherd is young and healthy, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. But taking some extra precautions never hurts, either. 

Adult German Shepherds range from 50 up to 90 pounds, on average. There can be many variations to this, either way. As an example, my female German Shepherd is very tall, long, and weighs 88lbs!

Large Female German Shepherd
My German Shepherd, Willow, aged 5-years, showing her large size

You would think larger dogs will have an easier time with stairs, but that’s not always the case. Their long legs and strong muscles will make it easier to ascend or descend, but they are also carrying a large body with them. Their size can sometimes make stairs a bit of an awkward task.

Always make sure that any stairs they use are clear of obstacles such as a leftover bone! Sharp turns or unexpected challenges can be dangerous for any dog on stairs, but especially larger breeds. Large dogs can easily strain or sprain something if they are climbing up or downstairs and need to make a sudden adjustment due to an obstacle.

When German Shepherds are puppies, introduce them to stairs slowly, and not before they are at least three months old. 

You always want to ensure they are comfortable and able to manage the stairs before allowing them to try on their own. Using praise and positive affirmations as they begin to master the mountain of stairs ahead of them. Luckily, German Shepherds are exceptionally intelligent and typically learn new tasks quickly.

If you only have a few stairs in your home and they do not need to climb them every day in their normal life, it is smart to wait even longer than three months if you can. If there is no pressing need for them to learn how to use stairs, put it off for a bit and allow their muscles and bones to develop more before allowing the extra stress on their joints. 

Hip or Elbow Dysplasia and Stair Use

Any breed of dog prone to hip or elbow dysplasia will need to be more careful when it comes to stair use. So, what is hip dysplasia?

“Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that is affected by factors such as diet, environment, exercise, growth rate, muscle mass, and hormones.”

VCA Hospitals

German Shepherd puppies are born with perfectly normal and healthy hips. However, from birth to 8-weeks old is a crucial time for proper growth and development of hips in dogs, so the type of exercise GSD pups have is very important during this time.

According to The Institute of Canine Biology, puppies that regularly use stairs when they are younger than three months old pose a higher risk for hip dysplasia later in life. This is important since German Shepherds are already a breed that is a high risk for the condition.

This is why it is so important to wait long enough before training them on the stairs. It can even be beneficial to allow more time than three months, if possible. Giving them time to develop further before having them tackle the stairs will not only help keep them safe, but it will also give you an extra excuse to scoop your cute pup up in your arms and carry him more often!

If your German Shepherd has been diagnosed with hip or elbow dysplasia, your veterinarian will be able to tell you specifics regarding how much activity is too much and the types of activity he can handle.

It’s also a good idea to get an orthopedic dog bed such as the Big Barker that has been recently clinically proven in this study to improve joint function and reduce pain. It can also help prevent future joint problems that German Shepherds and all large breed dogs are at risk of developing. I love this one as it comes with a 10-year guarantee! You can also get it on Amazon, but you don’t get a 10-year warranty. You can check current pricing on Amazon.

You can find my review of the Big Barker here.

Using stairs can be painful for a dog with hip or elbow dysplasia. Often, you may be able to see the early signs of either condition because of a new apprehension surrounding climbing stairs. If they seem to manage other tasks but suddenly hesitate or refuse to climb the stairs, treat that as a red flag and call your vet.  

Some other warning signs include:

  • Unable to stand on hind legs
  • Extreme stiffness that lasts a long time after getting up
  • Limping
  • Lethargy caused by pain from moving not caused by an accident

Don’t worry though as not all German Shepherds have bad hips. You can also help to reduce the risk by choosing a reputable breeder in the first instance and ensuring both parents have a low hip score. A reliable and honest breeder will only breed from dogs that score below the breed average.

Helping Your German Shepherd with Dysplasia Use the Stairs

German Shepherds that are diagnosed with dysplasia will need help getting up and down any stairs. So, when that isn’t possible, you can still find ways to help them or limit their usage. 

  • Removing Stairs Altogether 

If you can completely remove stairs from their life, that will be best. Buying a simple pet stair gate, such as the Carlson Pet Gate from Amazon, will be a quick and easy solution to make sure they aren’t sneaking trips up and down the stairs while you are not around. I like this one as it’s extra tall, so there’s definitely no jumping over!

Of course, carrying your dog may be necessary if you have lots of stairs in your home. But this may be easier said than done if your little fur baby weighs 88 pounds! This is where some other options may be handy.

  • Ramps

If your German Shepherd only has a few stairs they need to climb for getting in and out of the house, or into a sunken living room, for example, then a ramp may be the best solution. Most ramps can also double as a way for them to get in and out of the car or other high places easier. Check out the Pet Gear Full Length Ramp on Amazon. It’s slip-resistant, lightweight, and portable and gets thousands of great reviews.

  • Dog Lifter

If your German Shepherd does not have a severe case, but you still want to give them some help getting up and downstairs, a dog lifter could be a good solution. They offer a comfortable harness that allows you to help your dog take some of the weight off their legs as they tackle stairs or get in or out of the car.

Many companies sell these, which are perfect for German Shepherds. I like the look of this dog lift support harness on Amazon, which looks really comfy for your dog’s underbelly, and it gets awesome reviews. 

Why Stairs Can be Good for Your German Shepherd

If your dog is healthy and active with no illness, injury, or condition, then stairs can be a great exercise. According to Cesar’s Way, they activate many different muscle groups and pose an excellent outlet for your dog’s energy when they might not be able to get out for a long play session that day.

5 month old German Shepherd sat on stairs. Are Stairs Bad for German Shepherds?
My German Shepherd Willow aged 5-months sat on the stairs

Letting them run up and down occasionally will help tire them out and get them an excellent quick exercise on a rainy day when you might not be going for your usual long walk with them. No matter what the weather though, German Shepherds still need to go for their walks, even if you do make them a little shorter.

Keeping your German Shepherd active and in a healthy weight range will also help fight the possibility of hip and elbow dysplasia, arthritis, or other mobility issues further down the line.

So, ensuring they get enough daily exercise and stick to a healthy diet will help decrease their risk. Here is where you can find my giant guide on the best diet for German Shepherds, including nutrition, types, and loads more including exactly what they can and can’t eat.

Whilst we are on the subject of nutrition, it’s also very important if you are feeding your GSD dry kibble, to choose a brand specifically designed for large breed dogs. Here’s why!

Keeping Your German Shepherd Healthy and Safe on Stairs

Your healthy German Shepherd will be safe and able to use stairs without issue. Just make sure their path is clear, and they don’t need to over-utilize them daily, which can wear down their joints and cause them to be a higher risk for hip or elbow dysplasia.

If they already have either condition, speak with your vet, and make necessary changes around the home to accommodate them.

Final Thoughts

Here are some key takeaways from the article:

  • Stairs are not bad for German Shepherds as long as they are healthy.
  • Puppies should avoid using stairs until they are at least 3 months old.
  • If your German Shepherd suffers from hip dysplasia, it’s best to limit their use of stairs
  • There are various items available to help you with this, such as stair gates, ramps, or dog lifters.
  • Stairs can be an ideal form of indoor exercise for healthy German Shepherds.

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a female German Shepherd named Willow, and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with her, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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