Can Shih Tzus Climb Stairs? Is It Good Exercise For Them?


If we go for the simplest answer to whether can Shih Tzus climb stairs or not we’d have to go with a yes. Shih Tzus are physically capable of climbing stairs with enough time. However, their small bodies and similarly short limbs does not make it an easy task.

While we as people take stairs for granted, it’s important to remember that the modern world is made for humans. Most people are at least 5 feet tall, which means the standard stair height of roughly 7 inches is not a big deal.

But when you take into account Shih Tzus are on average 10 inches tall, that number sounds daunting. So you should be ready for your little dog to struggle with them.

A single step can be almost as tall as your dog, and can you honestly imagine making a 5 feet jump just to go upstairs? Granted the differences between humans and dog are many so it’s not exactly a direct comparison. But you should keep in mind that your Shih Tzu will never be amazing at climbing regular stairs.

Are Stairs Good Exercise for Shih Tzus?

If you have had other breeds before you’ve probably heard how good can regular stair use be for a dog’s health. While this is generally true it does run into two major obstacles when it comes to Shih Tzus: Height and Energy.

As we’ve made clear stairs are an inherently tall order for any Shih Tzu so you’d be overexerting them instead of helping them exercise.

Another major factor is that Shih Tzus just aren’t a very active breed. A Shih Tzu doesn’t need as much exercise as most dogs and trying to force him into the stairs runs more risks than benefits.

So if you planned to add some park stairs into their running routine it’s best to avoid it altogether. Shih Tzus do need exercise like any other dog, but we should remember their needs are to scale. They are small and that’s something we tend to overlook when thinking about physical activity.

What About Regular Stair Use?

Now when it comes to regular use of stairs the situation becomes more tricky. The simple fact is that stairs are a common feature of our world everywhere we go, and chances are that your house has them as well. On paper regular use of stairs shouldn’t really be risky but we should be careful with Shih Tzus nonetheless.

The first thing to keep in mind is that Shih Tzus are much better at going up stairs than they are at going down stairs. Climbing up should usually not be that hard for a Shih Tzu depending on it’s height, and can help us determine their skill at it.

Not all dogs are as skilled and even across the same breed height can vary a lot, so paying close attention to how your Shih Tzu fares at climbing stairs is vital to judge their ability.

If you are on a walk and there’s a short set of steps required to go up, there should be no issue. You should be patient and let your dog move at it’s own pace as they figure things out, but most healthy Shih Tzus should climb something like that with next to no issue.

Now when it comes to household stairs the situation does change a bit. At the most basic level it’s the same process but they are far, far taller.

We’ve talked about Shih Tzu’s jumping prowess before on this website, but for a quick reminder we mentioned that the average jumping height they can handle is 8″ at most.

Taking that into account and the fact that stairs aren’t exactly an unassisted vertical jump, a Shih tzu should still be in it’s comfort zone with a staircase. The issue lies simply in the repetition, so you should pay close attention to how your pet fares. If your Shih Tzu is an athletic one then it might even climb stairs in record time!

On the other hand the opposite can be true as well. If going up is too much of a struggle or if it shows signs of exhaustion halfway through the staircase it’s time to take a break and help it go up by yourself.

There are ways to train dogs for stairs but forcing them won’t help the matter right now, stairs are just hard for small breeds.

Now the real issue really lies in going downstairs. We answered if can Shih Tzus climb stairs… but the main word there really is “climb”. And small dogs aren’t known for descending stairs as much as they hop down them.

A common issue for small breeds is that when going down their legs won’t reach the next step and their way of going down is more akin to short hops. This comes with the risk of them toppling down if they go too fast, and nobody wants to risk a stairs accident. Once again this won’t be true for all Shih Tzus, but it’s a common risk and one we have to acknowledge.

The Dangers Of Stairs For Shih Tzus And How To Avoid Them

So far we’ve seen that stairs are a complicated task for Shih Tzus but that doesn’t mean that they are death traps by themselves. Both stairs and dogs come in many shapes and sizes and some Shih Tzus can become expert climbers all on their own. However, the risks do exist and this means that us owners have a duty to help them responsibly through the process.

The first thing we need to do is to confirm how your Shih Tzu is going down the stairs. If your dog is easily reaching the next step and going down with a foothold there’s no room to worry. Dogs have excellent balance and that will keep them safe as long as they have a supporting point.

On the other hand if your Shih Tzu is making those short jumps to go down then we need to consider our options.

Look at your Shih Tzu and see if it’s limb length would allow it to take steps downstairs. If this is the case we can look into training, if not then it might be better to gate the stairs when you are both in a higher level.

Of course just because your Shih Tzu is already a hiker all on it’s own it doesn’t mean other issues can’t pop up. Shih Tzus are prone to having various joint issues and these can impact their ability to handle stairs.

If your dog is suddenly making weird movements near the shoulder area or avoiding stairs that once were simple for them its time to go to the vet.

Most joint issues in Shih Tzus are thankfully easy to treat and rarely require more than pills. But prevention can go a long way and no risk is worth taking when it comes to our beloved partners.

Teaching Your Shih Tzu To Climb Stairs

As we’ve mentioned so far it is possible to teach your Shih Tzu to handle stairs better. And since there are potential risks from not using stairs properly we strongly recommend you train your Shih Tzu for it.

Of course the first thing to keep in mind is age, a dog too old won’t learn easily and an elderly Shih Tzu should really avoid stairs. However the same is true for younger Shih Tzus as well and we need to pick the right age for your Shih Tzu to tackle stairs.

When your Shih Tzu is roughly 10 months old it’ll be near the end of its puppyhood and should probably be at their final height. This is the ideal point to start taking lessons for climbing stairs.

Given their relative youth and small size it might be a good idea to buy a set of dog steps for them to practice on. If your house comes with a short set of stairs that don’t go beyond two feet it can be a good option too.

At this point we just want to focus on letting them learn how to use their limbs to climb up and down without being afraid of the height or fall.

Pay close attention to their limb movement and how they handle steps in both directions. With practice your Shih Tzu should learn to handle stairs relatively fast, but we want it to use the proper habits.

If it’s hopping down steps, guide his limbs if possible. And if you see that its height doesn’t allow it to go down easily, then discontinue the descending practice.

Of course treats will be your best friend when training your dog. But it’s important that you pay close attention. Your dog will do anything to please you, so it’s up to you to make sure everything is safe for them.

Just make sure to keep in mind their limbs and you will find yourself with a great climber in no time at all. Stairs can be hard but that’s also reason to consider training. And as long as you both are careful or dedicated you’ll be able to tame them together.

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