Have you ever slipped on a slick floor? The feeling that you’re about to fall, or actually falling and hurting yourself, is a scary one, sending the stomach flip-flopping with anxiety.
Dogs might seem to have an advantage with four legs to balance on, but slippery surfaces can be just as frightening to them as they are to humans. Many trainers recommend introducing puppies to a variety of walking surfaces so that they learn to traverse them without fear. Puppy owners may have carpet and tile in their home and walk their puppy on concrete and asphalt, but often missing from a pup’s experience are shiny, slippery floors. Here’s why that’s a problem.
Shiny, slippery floors such as those found in large pet supply stores or even in some veterinary clinics look different. That high shine reflects things differently than other floors do and present a new challenge to the puppy. If you can, lie on your belly on one of these shiny floors and look at the reflections. You might be surprised at what you see and have greater understanding of your puppy’s fears.
The fact that the floor is slippery simply adds to a puppy’s distress and fear. When his paws slide and his claws are unable to get a grip, the puppy will stiffen in either a crouching or upright position. Either way, he’s not going to be able to move, and panic will build. The fear from that experience then might carry over to any hard, shiny, slippery surface, and the puppy will make every effort to avoid such flooring in the future.
What Not To Do
All too often, people become angry or embarrassed when their puppies won’t set paw on slick surfaces. Be understanding and recognize that he has every right to be afraid. Yelling or dragging him onto the floor by his collar or leash won’t help and may well make things worse.
Punishment of any kind will only cause your puppy to be more afraid. Plus, now he’s going to be afraid of you as well as the floor.
Take Your Time
Ideally, find a shiny, slippery floor where you can introduce your puppy without creating a problem for a business. If one of your neighbors has a floor like this, that would be awesome.
Have a pocket full of high-value treats: chicken bits, hot dogs, cheese, or other treats your puppy really likes. Cut the treats into small pieces so you can deliver many rewards without too much caloric intake.
First, give your puppy a chance to relieve himself and play for a few minutes. Ideally, he should be relaxed and happy.
With your puppy on leash, approach the slippery floor casually. Hand him a few small treats as you approach. If your puppy begins to put on the brakes, back up a few steps from the floor and stop. Offer treats to help him relax.
When he’s relaxed and his breathing is slow (his heart isn’t racing), drop a treat to the floor away from you but not toward the slippery floor. Let him go eat it. Repeat a couple of times.
When he’s excited about the treats, toss the next few toward the slippery floor but not on it. Let your puppy eat those too.
Toss the next couple of treats just onto the slippery floor, just far enough that he can stand on the non-slippery floor but still reach the treats. When he eats those, repeat this again. If he steps onto the slippery floor, toss him some more treats. If he backs up, that’s okay. Repeat the training steps where the treats are closer to you.
Let your puppy decide how fast these training steps should progress. Don’t force anything. These first few training steps might be completed in one training session, or it may take two or more. Follow your puppy’s lead, but always stop when he’s feeling happy and successful.
When He’ll Step On The Floor
When you can toss treats on the slippery floor and he’ll go eat them with all four paws on the floor, resist giving a boisterous verbal reward. While this may work well in other training situations, if you do it here, he may begin bouncing around and he could lose his footing again. All your work building his confidence could be gone in a heartbeat. Instead, give a calm “Good!” The treats can suffice as a reward.
Let him walk around on the slippery floor as he wishes. If he wants to explore, fine. If he just wants to go get the treat and then go back to safer footing, that’s fine, too.
If he walks for a bit and loses his confidence, don’t worry. Give him a break and repeat the previous training steps. Fear is an emotion and isn’t always logical. Take the training at his pace, and keep it upbeat, fun, and rewarding.
You can use this same training for other surfaces and for stairs. Just keep the training easy and fun, and let your puppy decide how quickly the training can progress.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.