Tricks & Training

Is Your Dog Refusing To Go Down Stairs? My Solution: A Cheap DIY Stair Runner For Dogs

DIY Stair Treads

Out of the blue one day, our dog refused to walk down the stairs in our home — the ones that connect the first floor to the second floor.

He had no problem going up the steps, but he wouldn’t come down unless one of us walked side-by-side with him down each of the steps. He also had no trouble going down similar steps on our deck outside.

The stairs in our house are solid wood, not carpeted. And we didn’t have stair runners at the time.

This unusual behavior started about a year after we moved into this house. Before this, he had been going up and down those steps — without incident — several times each day.

So, we went through all the normal “checks”:

  • Maybe he’s getting old. (Not likely, he’s only 4 years old.)
  • Maybe his toenails are too long and he doesn’t feel safe stepping on the wooden steps without sliding. (Nope, we do a good job of keeping his nails trimmed short. Even after a fresh toenail trim, he still wouldn’t walk down the steps.)
  • Maybe his eyesight is getting bad. (Even though he’s still fairly young, we had our vet check his eyes at his last annual visit. No cataracts, no eye issues that he could tell. Our veterinarian said if the problem continues, we may want to take him to an animal eye specialist.)
  • Maybe the lighting is bad on the stairway. Perhaps it’s too bright (causing a reflection/glare on the uncarpeted steps) or too dark (but even with every light in the house on, he still refused to come down those stairs).

Other things we were able to rule out:

  • Fear of stairs — He had gone up and down these same stairs without incident for nearly a year before he just stopped cold in his tracks and refused to go down this set of stairs any longer.  He didn’t fall down the stairs, didn’t get scared one time on the stairs, and didn’t have any other strange occurrences on the steps that we were aware of.
  • Leg issues — He had TPLO surgery on his right rear knee 3 years earlier, but at our most recent vet appointment we were told there was nothing acting up with Tenor’s legs.

Trial And Error Experiments I’ve Tried

I’m telling you, this had us completely baffled — especially the fact that it happened so suddenly.

We went through a couple weeks of trying different things to figure out what suddenly caused Tenor to stop going down the stairs.

I even called a General Contractor friend of ours (and fellow dog lover) to get his opinion on things to try.

He said to look at the stair risers (the tall space between each step) and the sides of the stairs themselves. He thought, since those areas are painted white, that could be causing some extra reflection on the dog’s eyes. So, short of re-painting the stair risers at this point, I rigged up a home-experiment to make the stair risers and sides a dull brown color rather than a glossy white color.

Did Tenor come down the steps after that?


For what it’s worth, Tenor has no problem walking over / through / under obstacles. So having these things placed on the stairs — in and of themselves — were not intimidating to him. This experiment made it clearer that the stair treads themselves were most likely the key problem here.

In the end, nothing got Tenor to come down those steps except for ONE THING: brown padded shelf liner!

My DIY Stair Runner For Dogs: Version 1.0

I started with a leftover piece of thinly padded non-adhesive shelf liner (that’s supposed to be cut-to-size and placed in your cabinets and drawers).

I used this shelf liner in the chocolate color (it’s 20 inches wide):

Actually, I always have some of this stuff on hand, but rarely use it as shelf liner. I mostly use it to keep small throw rugs in place on our hardwood flooring throughout the house. It gives them a bit of a “grip” without being “tacky.” I also use it as a DIY jar opener… with grip!

The piece I had on hand was large enough to span across 2 steps (while hugging those 2 stair risers, as well) — so I decided to see if Tenor would walk on that and come down the stairs on his own.

He did!

Once he got past those top 2 shelf-lined steps, he just kept on going. Yep, once he started going through the motion of walking down the first 2 steps, he continued without pausing.

Wa-lah! I’d found it.

We attribute the success of this DIY stair runner to its color and texture.

Something as simple as shelf liner on the stairs ultimately gives Tenor the confidence to trot down the stairs without thinking twice anymore. Personally, I think it’s just the slick surface that he didn’t trust himself on anymore. He must have slipped once that we didn’t know about or had some other scary experience that caused his behavior to change overnight.

To continue this home experiment for a longer time (and before we invested in a more expensive “official” stair runner) I ended up buying 2 new 10-foot pieces of the chocolate brown colored shelf liner for $20 total. They almost perfectly reach from top to bottom of our stairs (including the risers) — just as a real stair runner would.

Since the shelf liner is slightly “grippy” on its own, I didn’t tack it down or anything — it pretty much stayed in place on its own.

Longevity & Durability Of This DIY Stair Runner

Here it is almost a year later, and my original DIY stair runner is still in place!

After a month or so, it was clear that this $20 solution had made Tenor’s life better — and ours as well. (Because we had resorted to closing off the stairs so Tenor couldn’t be upstairs with us while we worked all day in our home offices — and that wasn’t fun for us or for him.)

We still haven’t switched to a real stair runner yet. Truthfully, if we ever do to invest in a stair runner, then we will probably go with a full-length one-piece stair runner for a more professional “finished” look.

I know… You would think that just about any stair runner would look better than this makeshift one made of shelf liner!

But a real stair runner — and the process required to install it — costs a fair amount of money and forever changes the look of natural stairs (which we prefer, over carpeting).

We just want to make sure that we find exactly what we’re looking for before we go through all that. Plus, when you’re installing a “real” dog friendly stair runner, there are a boatload of mistakes that could happen — and I’m not sure I have the patience for that right now.

I’ve Secured It In Place With Staples Now

For the time being, to more permanently secure my DIY stair runner into place, I’ve used a staple gun to place one single staple at the back of each stair tread — closest to the riser.

This eliminates us having to re-straighten the shelf liner every few days — as it naturally shifts a bit with 2 adults and 1 dog walking up and down it several times each day.

The staples keep it firmly in place without affecting the natural look of the stairs themselves. (I’m thinking about future re-sale value here, because a simple flat-head staple remover pulls the staples out effortlessly and without any damage or big holes left behind.)

Believe it or not, even after 1 year of regular use, our cheap DIY stair runner hasn’t ripped or become worn looking at all!

Those single staples (one per stair riser) have done a marvelous job of keeping everything in place. And best of all… the staples are completely hidden up and under the ledges of the stairs (where the riser meets the step above it).

UPDATE: After the second full year of use as a dog stair runner (and every 2 years after that), I’ve had to re-staple it in a couple of spots. I was able to use those original pieces of shelf liner for a total of 5 years — it wears that well! (See Version 2.0 below)

At first, my husband cringed when he heard what I had done — during a weekend when he was out of town.

And I admit, it’s not a very “classy” thing to do. It certainly doesn’t look as nice as everything else in our home does. But to be honest, it doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb either! (It does in pictures, but not so much in person — trust me on this.)

Keep in mind, this was initially a just quick makeshift solution to worrisome dog problem — so I really didn’t care too much about how it “looked”.

I do still consider this a temporary measure, not a permanent one. It’s just stuck around a little longer than I had initially thought it would — that’s all.

My Cheap DIY Stair Runner: Version 2.0

Now it’s 10 years later and I’ve replaced the shelf liner just twice! (Eventually, it becomes a little thin in the center where it gets stepped on the most.)

This time, I did a better job of covering all of the risers and all of the stair treads — without leaving any gaps. (That was an amateur move, for sure.)

Notice the stair riser about mid-way up that is still white in the photo above? That’s where one roll of shelf liner ran out and the next roll started. I shouldn’t have left that gap. Ditto for the last 2 risers and step — they’re now covered like all the rest.

Here’s what Version 2.0 of my DIY stair runner looks like now:

And if you really wanted it to look “perfect” you could add extra staples where you see small gaps here and there — but it’s honestly not noticeable in person, so I just left it.

It really is a great solution. What started as only a temporary solution has become a permanent solution in our home!

And you know what? No one has ever commented on our funky stair runner. At 20-inches wide, it may look a little bit narrower than most stair runners, but it doesn’t stand out like an eyesore. It actually blends in with our brown walls and earth-tone home decor quite well.

By the way, the shelf liner comes in other colors, lengths, and widths too.

Yes, I’m still keeping a “real” stair runner (or maybe several non-slip stair treads) on my wish list — just in case I decide to pony up the big bucks and replace my DIY stair runner with the real deal. These are the dog friendly stair treads that I like best:

21 thoughts on “Is Your Dog Refusing To Go Down Stairs? My Solution: A Cheap DIY Stair Runner For Dogs”

  1. Thank you so much for your post. I now have a solution to try for my dogs. We are having the exact same problem and I was in the process of googling stair runners when I ran across your post.

    Again, many thanks for taking the time to write it up!!

  2. My dog just started doign the same exact thing- out of the blue- for no reason.  She goes up and down them all day- but now- this morning in fact – will not walk down the stairs.  Even treats won’t get her down- but the problem is that we live in an apt and I can’t just “add that runner”- She gets growly when we try to pick her up and will not go down the stairs- 25 of them.  but she will go up !  “sigh” – What do I do ?


    • Goggle – I have 2 ideas. 

      First, you may be surprised by how UNnoticeable the staples really are. Seriously. I recently found a spot where I didn’t get one side of the staple securely into the wood when stapling my stair runner in place. Over time, it had worked its way loose. But I could barely even SEE the other hole where that staple did go in correctly the first time. You might want to experiment with one staple to see for yourself.If not, I still have an idea that will work!…I use this removable adhesive all around the house ALL the time. It’s called UGlu. It’s similar to that clear, rubbery adhesive that advertisers use to mail you a magnet that’s stuck onto a card (or onto a phonebook!). They also use it to stick all sorts of other things onto paper fliers, store products, etc.I use it to stick things on walls in my house, hold rugs in place on hardwood floors, display trinkets on top of one other on a shelf (so they won’t move & will stay in place). You get the idea.It’s 100% removable. Leaves no sticky residue. And doesn’t hurt the surface when you remove it.It would work PERFECTLY for the DIY stair runner. (Had I thought about it earlier, I probably would have gone that route before using the staples myself :-D)I got my first box of UGlu at Bed, Bath & Beyond (with their 20% coupon!). I recently picked up a 2nd box at Target (on the end aisle in housewares – where they have “as seen on TV type stuff”). Hope that helps…

  3. This was so perfect. Thank you, my husky has cataracts at 12 years and always had to use the bathroom butwas scared to come down the stairs, which resulted in him holding his pee in oraccidentally doing it in the house. Thank you for this alternative and letting dog owners know to be patient & realize they’re not alone

  4. My mini Shelti girl comes upstairs and gets ‘stuck’, and then does her business everywhere (not even on her puppy pad or paper).

    It’s been two years of GROSS encounters :( and I am Going a bit Mad!

    I thought i had tried everything.

    Your ideas are brillant and so cost effective .

    Going to try the stair runner and the side blinding tomorrow! Hit that stairwell with both barrels.

    To be fair to her our stairs are a bit scary steep and narrow, with open wire/timber rails, so perhaps temporarily closing it in might help her visual fears. She does actually have a non degenerative sight impediment which doesn’t help matters.

    I really can not wait to try it :D thank you xx

  5. Would this work for outside steps? I live on a 2nd floor apartment with 2 flights of wooden steps (outdoors) and my 6 year old 60 lb pitbull mix out of the blue just stopped going down the steps. I have to carry her down at least 3 times a day and she is half my weight! It is really taking a toll on my back. My vet said he couldn’t see her retina so it could be a vision/depth perception issue. I tried putting treats on the steps, taping duct tape to the edge of each step, nothing works. I want to try this stair runner but I’m unsure about using it outdoors because I live on the east coast where there is rain snow ice hurricanes etc. I will do anything to help my pup (and my back!). Is it worth a shot to try the runner on my outdoor stairs?

    • Yes! I would DEFINITELY try it if I were you, Casey. Because you won’t know until you try. And it cannot hurt a thing. Truthfully, you may need to replace it more frequently than those of us who are using it indoors – but that’s just due to the elements that will probably wear it out faster. It’s definitely worth trying though – for your dog’s freedom and happiness …AND your back! Let us know how it goes…

  6. Thank you for this post! I’ve been racking my brain trying to find a cheap temporary solution for our new staircase for our less-than-graceful 110 lb. dog. This is perfect!

  7. YAY Lynette! TY, TY, TY!!!!!!!!! We rescue, and have the exact same issue going on right now with our GS Mix Female, Penny! My suspicion was really that she had slipped/fallen before when we weren’t home and was confirmed as she slipped, in front of me on morning. And now again this morning! UGH! (SO, yeah, since my husband worked hard to remove the carpet and replace the faux pressed partical board steps with solid Oak wood ones himself years ago when we bought this condo, he is totally bulking at a runner or sticky stuff. Plus thinking long tern resell at retirement and the expense of altering them! UGH! (We too have had vet check her and her eyes, etc…a few times now! LOL Plus she is “big” for a female GS-mostly long-although others say she is big. LOL And she has been clumsy since she was a pup-so I wondered if that was issue…LOL Back to the vet she went to be checked for any coordination type issues too. Vet asked me if I needed to see a doctor over this! LOL Yeah, I would rather be safe than sorry later though). My big concern, besides the money, was what color! LOL (We still have carpet on stairs to furnished basement that she won’t go down either. But it is dark blue and not lighted as well). I am going to share this and not that you needed it, LOL, but going to your link above to follow you! Blessings…. Lynda

    • Hi Lynda – I’m so glad that you found the info helpful! Hopefully, your dog will be walking down stairs in no time :-) Thanks for sharing your story.

  8. Lynnette, I love you! Seriously! 3 days ago my rat terrier, Milo, started refusing to go down the stairs as well. He would cry and howl at the top of the stairs leaving us all standing on the bottom of the stairs staring at him in confusion. At first, he’d go down when i went up and put his harness leash on but the next day he flat out refused to go down even with the harness so I had to carry him. Over the past month or so he started coming down the stairs like a speeding bullet so I suspect he must have fallen when home alone and just didn’t trust himself going down the stairs anymore either. I was pretty devastated when i realized that his refusal to go down the stairs wasn’t a one off thing so I googled my issue and the link to this post was the first one to show up, so I clicked it. And I am so happy that I did! I ordered the the con-tact brand liner and just tried it about 15 minutes ago and it worked! He went down the stairs with confidence!!! A million times thank you! I would have never thought of this on my own. I just have one question for you. I purchased 4 rolls of the Con-Tact Brand Grip Premium Non Adhesive Non Slip Shelf and Drawer Liner in Chocolate but the only size option they had was 20in by 4ft and now that i have them in hand i think it’ll be kind of tough to make a runner out of 4 pieces as the riser sections sag quite a bit. You had said you were able to purchase the rolls in 10 foot rolls and I tried searching online but i couldn’t find them in Con-tact brand and chocolate. This is my first experience with shelf liner so I wanted to buy the exact one you used. Mind sharing where you bought yours or the link? Forever Grateful, Joanne and confident Milo. :)

  9. I am at my wits end my chocolate lab want go down the steps on the back deck it started about 2 months ago she wouldn’t go up the steps and she had been going up and down with no problem then she wouldn’t go up the steps now she want go down the steps so I am going to try the paper and see if that will do it I have been considering a ramp but that’s so expensive hope this works jane

    • Hi Jane – I hope this solution works for you and your dog as well as it did for me and my dog. It’s a cheap alternative to a ramp, and you can try various colors too. PS Personally, before I bought a ramp, I’d experiment with making my own from basic 2x4s. Just attach some pieces of wood going the opposite direction as a stabilizer to make the “ramp” sturdy.

  10. Thank you for this awesome idea! Our schnauzer is having hip problems and will go down but not up unless the stair is carpeted. We have one set of stairs that is not carpeted so I will try this before investing in carpet to see if it might work. Great idea!

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