Thursday, November 17, 2011

Training your dog to ride in an elevator

I often encourage my training students to get their dogs out in public to train them in settings with a variety of distractions. Dogs should be well mannered out in public, and that means we have to train them in all kinds of different situations and environments. Tonight I went to my local outdoor mall (it was fairly quiet there) and worked with my Borzoi on a variety of skills. In this post I’m going to talk about etiquette and techniques for using an elevator when you have your dog with you.

In our mall, you can travel from one floor to another via stairs, escalator, or elevator. Never take your dog on an escalator. I know of one situation where a person had a young dog and he took him on an escalator. The pup became frightened, and crouched, and the escalator stairs caught the fur on his underside and (brace yourself) caught the dog’s penis. Never take your dog on an escalator. Use the elevator if you don’t want to use the stairs.

In fact, training your dog to use an elevator is smart because you may not always be able to use the stairs yourself. So here are the tips:

1. Keep your dog close to your side, in heel position, at all times. Don’t keep a tight leash unnecessarily—teach your dog to be at your side and have about 12” of leash, enough to allow the leash to be slightly slack if the dog stays in position.

2. You want to be very considerate of other people who may be in or around the elevator. Keep this in mind as we proceed….

3. Press the elevator button, and then turn and make a circle so you’re now about 3 feet BACK from the door and the dog is again on your left side in heel position. The purpose of this is to allow a person who may be IN the elevator to exit without being confronted (and startled!) by the presence of your dog right there at the elevator door. Be considerate—be a few feet back when the door opens.

4. Once it’s safe to enter, you need to determine if there is anyone in the elevator. If there is, if you are still in the beginning stages of training your dog, smile and say you’ll take the next one and let this one pass. You want to start out training without anyone else in the elevator.

5. OK, so assuming that no one is in the elevator, enter and turn left, guiding your dog along the wall until your dog is between you and the back wall. Pull out treats, hit your button, and start talking to your dog in a calm, slightly happy voice. Praise your dog and start feeding treats. Keep the dog close to you, but you don’t have to make him sit. The elevator jolts a bit when it starts and stops, and these sensations can scare a dog. So distract your dog with treats, especially as the elevator starts and stops moving.

6. As the door opens, pause a moment and then say “Let’s go” in a happy voice and proceed out slowly—there may be a person near the door waiting to enter, and they may be startled by seeing a dog come out. Again, and I can’t say this enough, keep your dog in heel position on your left side—don’t let your dog zoom out in front of you as you exit, for example. Imagine if a new mother had her baby in a stroller right outside the elevator and suddenly saw a dog rushing out. She’d be furious at such an unpredictable situation that would feel dangerous for her baby. Be considerate. Be considerate. Be considerate.

7. Once your dog is used to riding in the elevator with just the two of you, it is time to add the distraction of another person in the elevator. This is why we keep the dog in heel position, between us and the wall. It sort of contains our dog, and prevents him from having the full freedom of the elevator. Ideally, you want to practice this with a friend first, who will be forgiving if the dog makes a few mistakes. YOUR job is to ensure that your dog stays focused on YOU, and your treats, and doesn’t start socializing with everyone in the elevator. Riding in the elevator should be a low-key, still, sort of serious activity. It’s not the time to let your dog schmooze with other people. Why? Because you want your dog to be predictable and contained while in the elevator. It’s a very small space, and if your dog comes to assume it can visit with others in the elevator, you may create a very threatening and uncomfortable experience for someone in the elevator who isn’t entirely thrilled to have your dog there in the first place. In other words, your dog has to be extremely well mannered, and learn to stay still right next to you throughout the whole process.

8. The purpose of pausing and not moving until you say “Let’s go” is that you don’t want your dog to take the door’s opening as his signal that it’s OK to move. If there are others on the elevator, you should stay put while they exit, and your dog will have to stay still until you signal that it’s OK to move. Dogs are great at recognizing patterns and at anticipating, so you will want to vary the length of time you pause to ensure that your dog doesn’t associate the door opening as the cue to move. Also, there will be times where the door is opening to a floor different than your desired floor (another scenario to practice!)—again, you don’t want your dog suddenly springing into motion in these situations.

9. The more advanced version of this would (once your dog is very experienced) to practice elevator work with another friend and dog in the same elevator at the same time. Both dogs should be quite experienced before doing this.

10. Training for elevator work during quiet times is important, as a courtesy to the shoppers at the mall. Most people don’t even know where the elevators at the mall are anyway.

11. One last point—make sure your dog has pottied before starting any of this elevator work—you do NOT want your dog getting stressed and having an accident. Keep your sessions short, and give your dog a chance to potty again after working for a few minutes. Training something new can be sort of intense for a dog, and it can trigger a need to urinate sooner than you might expect. And don’t forget to click and treat generously.