by Maureen E. Whittemore
The puppies learned to climb the stairs this morning.
At five years old, my two yellow labs, Sophie and Mia, had plenty of energy, bounding by me as I headed up to the second floor bedroom. Opening my closet door, I heard the whining of our newest family members from the floor below. Koko and Midnite were just eleven weeks old and had not yet mastered the art of climbing stairs; still I was confident their desire to be with our pack would ultimately assure that lesson.
A few short minutes later, the whining ceased and I heard the pitter-patter of something on the stairs. When I looked down, I saw Koko attempting her first climb. Her focus was intense. She raised her front leg, planting it on the stair for stability, then brought up the other. Front paws firmly on the stair above, she stood tippy toed, her back legs on the stair below, stretching for the extra height.
She grunted while pulling her body up, trying to clear her pudgy belly over the lip of the stair. Tummy clear, she was free to lift one back leg and then the next, pulling herself to a perfect landing! I voiced my encouragement “What a good puppy, come on Koko, you can do it!” and step by step she climbed, until she reached the top of the staircase. I knelt down and gave her praises, kisses and hugs. She was so proud of herself that I thought her little tail was going to wag right off her backside!
Our celebration was shorted lived when cries from the bottom of the stairs erupted into frenzied howls. Midnite had been watching Koko climb and was now the lone puppy on the first floor. She wanted desperately to be part of the celebration at the top of the stairs. Koko stared down at her sister with that “Look at me! I’m a big girl now,” attitude. Midnite was jumping sideways in protest as I called for her to come up.
“Come on Midnite, you can do it!” She paced frantically, seemingly too scared to give the steep staircase a try. She was, after all, a wee puppy with legs only half as tall as the rise on those steps.
Back and forth Midnite paced, crying and howling. My puppy psychology kicked in: Midnite might give the stairs a try if we were out of sight and she heard us having fun without her. In the bedroom, I grabbed a squeaky toy for the dogs to play with, then went back to the staircase and peaked down. I saw my little black lab try one step up and I held my breath with excitement.
As soon as she landed on the first stair, she rescinded back to the floor. Midnite’s next try brought her up two stairs, but again, as soon as she made the second stair, she turned and made a safe descent to the floor. Her third attempt brought her up three stairs and I was sure this time she was going to go the distance, but down she hopped with a little more gusto. Attempt number four: up she came, then down she went, thump, thump, thump, thump, to the landing.
“Come Midnite, you can make it,” I called.
Her fifth attempt was the jackpot! She climbed each stair, her little tail acting like a stabilizer, stiff and straight, as determination shone in her dark sapphire eyes. I was calling out with glee, thrilled that she had overcome her fear and was forging ahead with puppy braveness. When she reached the top, I hugged her and gave her such big praises that I was sure she wanted to try it again.
Playful exploration on the top floor engrossed the puppies as I dressed, and soon it was time to go back downstairs. Well aware of my older dogs’ exuberant clumsiness, I called for Sophie and Mia to go ahead of us, saving the puppies from being bowled over by their bigger pack mates. Next it was the puppies’ turn.
“Koko, Midnite, follow the big girls,” I said. The pair looked at me and sat down. It hadn’t occurred to me that going down those stairs was just as scary as climbing them. Taking the lead, I headed down and called for them to follow.
Midnite stood and without hesitation came down the stairs, passing me with courage that Koko now seemed to lack. It seems my little black lab had been practicing her descent long before she climbed to the top of the stairs. What a smart puppy! It wasn’t that Midnite had been afraid of climbing the stairs; it was that she wanted to make sure she knew how to get down them once she had climbed them! And little Koko, not having made the same insightful decision, was now stuck at the top, pacing back and forth, whining with fear.
We all watched little Koko as she reasoned out her fears and began her first descent. I readied myself for the catch. She handstand-landed her front legs on the stair below, her airborne body wobbling, her back side threatening to go full tilt over head, but she saved the cartwheel from happening and landed all four legs on the same stair.
“Good girl Koko! What a brave puppy,” I called. I cheered her on and slowly she made her way down, pausing mid way for a little panic attack, then continuing to the bottom floor where we all stood waiting. Midnite immediately pounced on her as if to say, “See, you should have done it my way,” and my praises continued for my brave puppy!
No falls. No tumbles. No bruised egos.
A big challenge embraced and overcome, each puppy with her own distinct method.
Fear was beaten down. Bravery won out.
A lesson was learned.