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

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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.

Our dog Tenor at the top of the stairs -- refusing to come down the steps.

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’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.

Part of a home experiment to see if the white glossy paint around the stairs was causing a bad reflection for the dog's eyes.

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!

DIY Stair Runner For Dogs

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:

This is the shelf liner that I use as a stair runner for my dog.

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!

This photo shows the 2 full length pieces of shelf liner. Notice Tenor at the top of the stairs waiting for me to stop taking pictures?

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.

I'm at the top of the steps giving you a dogs-eye view of what this DIY stair runner looks like to Tenor.

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.

What About Longevity & Durability?

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 could not be upstairs with us while we worked all day in our home offices.)

We still haven’t switched to a real stair runner yet. Truthfully, if we’re going to invest in a stair runner, then we will probably go with a 27-foot 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.

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 a 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.

UPDATE: After the second full year of use as a dog stair runner — and every year or so after that — I’ve had to re-staple a few few times. 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.)

Here you get some idea of how my DIY stair runner looks with our home furnishings.

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.

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 center where it’s 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:

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. 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:

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Dog refusing to go down stairs? See the cheap DIY stair runner I made!