I was out in Atlanta last week working with a Home Dog Training client and his Labrador Retriever, Daisy. We had begun their training about two months ago when they lived in a house with a back yard in Flowery Branch and had recently moved to a high rise condo in the city. We had worked with manners and obedience at the house and their back yard in Flowery Branch and things were great. Now that they were in a high rise, an entirely new issue has arisen. After they moved in, they discovered that Daisy was not extremely fond of the twenty floor elevator ride that needed to be done several times a day for potty and exercise.
Let’s think about an elevator for a moment. It is a very confined place that can be very crowded. There is no possible exit for sometimes an extended period of time and your field of vision is often zero. There are strange sights, smells, sounds, and movements. All the natural things that we use to keep us safe do not exist in this environment. For dogs, their natural ability of flight or fight has been removed and the only thing that is keeping them from lunging and aggressively challenging everything is their complete assurance that you, their master and caregiver, will keep them safe. This is a pretty tall order.
This new training challenge never needed to be addressed when my client and Daisy were back at their house. Her level of safety and his ability to maintain her focus and respect all were in line with the issues being presented. Obviously, things are now different. So, what did we do?
First, I needed to strengthen the bond between my client and Daisy in their new environment. This involves bonding and focus.
- I have my client perform simple obedience in five minute intervals about every sixty minutes during the day. (All done on the leash.)
- Just out of the blue, I have him command Daisy to sit. As soon as she does, he praises her and begins to walk away.
- I then have him turn around command her to come. As soon as she does, he acknowledges her obedience.
- Next, I have him command Daisy to walk with him. They walk for about ten to fifteen feet in one direction (across the room), turn around, and then walk back. They now stop and he commands Daisy to sit. As soon as she does, he praises her correct actions.
- They repeat this for about five minutes and then the activity is over.
These quick “pop quizzes” of obedience strengthen the hierarchical bond of leader and follower between my client and Daisy. By my client commanding Daisy, he is naturally the leader and Daisy is naturally the follower. Because of this, Daisy understands that it is her responsibility to always “keep an eye” on my client and be ready to respond to his orders. This creates a strengthened focus that will be critical in the elevator.
Before we actually “tackle the elevator”, we need to perform a simple “prerequisite exercise”. We need to make sure that Daisy is comfortable with the trip from the Condo front door to the elevator. In order to accomplish this, I ask my client to take Daisy for short walks up and down the hall.
- Initially, they don’t walk all the way to the elevator. They first start out walking half way and then returning to the condo.
- As they are returning to the Condo, they can even walk past for a little while and then return.
- Now, walk to the elevator and then back to the Condo. Next time, walk past the elevator and then return to the Condo.
- Now, for something new…
- I ask them to walk and end up at the elevator. I ask my client to press the button and let Daisy hear the “ding-ding-ding” of the elevator coming to their floor. As soon as the door begins to open, move away and return to the Condo. Repeat this activity so that Daisy gets used to the noise of the elevator approaching and that it is no big deal.
Now, we are ready to work on the elevator ride with Daisy. Here we go…
- Ask a family member to get on the elevator on another floor and come to your floor as you are by the elevator door. See if your family member can ask other people to stay off the elevator for that one ride.
- As the elevator door opens, I ask my client to give Daisy a low, authoritarian sound and have her look at him. Then, they walk into the elevator and move to the back corner of the elevator. Daisy is near the side wall and my client is closer to the middle/back of the elevator.
- The family member presses several buttons so that the elevator will make several stops on the way down.
- Again, ask that people stay off the elevator for that one ride. As soon as the elevator door opens, I ask my client to make his authoritarian sound and have Daisy look at him and give him focus.
- When they reach the bottom floor, the family member steps out first and my client (with Daisy) follow.
- I ask them to repeat the above activity for a few days (as best they can).
As soon as Daisy becomes liaise-faire with the above exercise, we are ready to move to the next level and add real people to the elevator.
- At this phase, I ask my client to repeat the above activity, but allow others to enter the elevator with Daisy. As the door opens and the person starts to enter, he gives Daisy his authoritarian sound and has her focus on him. He keeps a tight leash, but not one that is choking or pulling. If Daisy starts to act nervous, they get off at the next floor; they wait for ten minutes, and then start the exercise again.
- I am not ready to introduce additional dogs in the elevator with Daisy, so if my client sees a dog at the elevator door ready to enter, he asks that person to step back for a second with their dog as he and Daisy exit. They wait for the next elevator and continue their downward journey with the next elevator without dogs.
- My client performs this exercise going up and down several times a day.
- As Daisy becomes more relaxed with people in the elevator and he can easily keep her focus, he stays in the elevator with more and more people. If, at any time, Daisy becomes nervous; they exit at the next stop.
There is one more thing to do. We add dogs to the mix.
- My client has some of his neighbor dogs and their owners stationed at different floors along the journey from his floor to the lobby.
- He and Daisy ride the elevator as usual, except now, dogs get on. My client still gives his authoritarian sound and redirectional focus leash tug to get Daisy to look at him as they enter.
- My client asks his neighbors to keep the dogs on the other side of the elevator just to make sure that they can maintain a safe distance in the event of an incident.
- They ride down and up the elevator a few times a day, making sure Daisy stays calm and focused as people and dogs enter and exit the elevator.
Daisy is now completely socialized with the elevator ride. My client has consistently added small tests to show Daisy that he is in control and she is safe with him.
Riding in an elevator can be stressful for us even when we have done it thousands of times before. Your continued ability to be in charge of “the ride” will strengthen your dog’s focus on your ability to keep him safe and lead him in the correct direction.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 or (770) 718-7716 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over fourteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.