How to urge your dog to overcome fears of stairs

Q: I have a 2-year-old female pit bull mix named Twinkie. For the past three months, she stopped going up stairs in my house or outside. She had no problem climbing in the past. She did suffer a mild sprain of her back leg, but the vet said there was no fracture. She is back to running around in the yard and being very affectionate, but just stops at the base of the stairs when I encourage her to come up.

A: Animals very rarely accept assurances that a situation is safe when their instincts tell them otherwise. Your dog felt at the time of the injury that the stairs were not a safe place to be and she will continue to think that until her firsthand experience proves otherwise. So, since the vet has cleared her, your job is to allow her to experience going up the stairs without drama and with her in control of the situation.

The best way to do this is to grab a handful of treats and allow Twinkie to see you holding them. Then calmly walk up the stairs leaving a treat on each step. Say nothing to the dog at all. Most likely she will then reach for as many treats as she can without going up the stairs, but the lure will be too much for her and she will probably decide that her fears are unfounded and zoom right up the stairs after the rest of the treats.

Q: My elderly father passed away just two months ago. His companion was a Maltese that he had for the last 10 years. Dad and his dog had lived with us for six years, and we have two other dogs. Dad’s dog never really socialized well with our others.

The dog seems to be doing just fine in the respect of eating and going outside and such, but she will stare for an hour at a time at the chair in the living room where Dad used to spend most of the day and then slowly walk away and go to sleep in her bed.

We tried to move the chair out of the room, but she found it and continues to stare at it even though it is now downstairs in our den. We really do not know what she is seeing or what is going on here, but we are all feeling a bit odd. Should we just move the chair out of our house?

A: It is a scientific fact that animals can grieve and grieving is an individual and personal issue — not every person or pet does it the same way. It is also a fact that animals can see, smell, hear and sense things we humans cannot, even such abstractions as magnetic fields and other parts of the natural world that people had little concept of for a long time.

Since she is not bothering anyone and is not chewing up the house or anything like that, I would just allow her to stare at the chair as long as she wants.

Q: It seems like every week birds hit our windows in our office building, and it bothers me to see those pretty little songbirds lying dead on the sidewalk as I go to work. This year, the management put up black bird silhouettes that are supposed to scare the birds away from the glass, but they obviously do not work. Is there anything that you can suggest?

A: This is a big issue in this day and age. So many poor birds that are flying through our urban and suburban areas die by crashing into windows. That’s because, in the last 100 years, we have altered their environment with so many obstacles that are alien to them. A few silhouettes on a big window are really not going to do very much. The birds are flying so fast that it is hard for them to comprehend that those cutouts mean anything. Netting or sheets to reduce visibility or reflection work best. The Cornell Institute of Ornithology in upstate Ithaca, N. Y. has studied this issue in great detail and can offer quite a few solutions. Go to

Marc Morrone, a Long Island, N.Y., "petskeeper" for the Martha Stewart franchise, writes a column for Newsday.