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How to Train Your Dog to Ride Calmly in Elevators

How to Train Your Dog to Ride Calmly in Elevators

Riding in elevators can be a stressful experience for dogs. The small, enclosed space, strange smells, and lack of control over the environment can cause anxiety and unwanted behaviors like barking, whining, and lunging. However, with proper training and desensitization techniques, you can teach your dog to ride calmly in elevators. Having a dog that is comfortable with elevator rides makes going places with your dog much easier. In this 10,000 word article, you will learn everything you need to know to train your dog to ride calmly in elevators.

Why Dogs May Fear Elevators

There are several reasons why dogs may develop a fear of elevators:

  • Enclosed space – Elevators are small, enclosed spaces. This tight space can make dogs feel trapped and anxious. Their natural fight or flight response gets triggered.

  • Unnatural movement – The movement of elevators going up and down can seem unnatural to dogs. They do not understand why the floor is moving under their feet. This often frightens them.

  • Lack of control – Dogs do not have any control over where the elevator takes them or when the doors open and close. This lack of control is stressful.

  • Strange smells – Each time the elevator doors open, new smells enter from the people getting on and off. This barrage of odors can overwhelm a dog's sensitive nose.

  • Noise – The hum of the elevator motor, dings of the bell, opening and closing of doors, and people talking can unsettle dogs.

  • Previous bad experience – If a dog has ever been scared by something in an elevator such as a loud noise or jarring movement, they can develop a lasting fear.

Knowing why dogs may be afraid of elevators will help you have compassion for your dog's fears and better address them during training.

Is Your Dog Scared of Elevators?

How do you know if your dog is afraid to ride in elevators? Look for these common signs of anxiety:

  • Hesitation to get on elevator

  • Refusal to get on elevator

  • Trembling

  • Tail tucked

  • Crouching low

  • Whining or barking

  • Trying to back out of elevator

  • Pacing

  • Seeking reassurance from owner

  • Hiding behind owner

If your dog exhibits multiple signs of stress when near an elevator, they likely have a phobia. But even mild apprehension should be addressed. Fear can worsen over time if left untreated. It is best to start desensitization training as soon as you notice any unwanted behavior related to elevators.

Training Overview

The goal of elevator training is to completely change your dog's mindset about elevators from scary to happy. This is done by creating only positive associations with elevators through desensitization and counterconditioning. Here is an overview of the training:

  • Start training in a quiet, low-traffic elevator. Too many variables before your dog is ready can cause fear.

  • Begin desensitization at a distance from the elevator at first. Slowly work up to closer proximity.

  • Give high-value food treats constantly whenever your dog is near the elevator to countercondition fear.

  • Allow your dog to set the pace. Do not force them onto an elevator. Build up slowly over multiple sessions.

  • Keep sessions brief, 5-10 minutes. Gradually increase time on elevator.

  • Practice getting on and off the elevator, door opening and closing, the car moving, etc.

  • If your dog ever appears scared, move further away again. This needs to be a positive experience.

  • Practice at all times of day, with variable noises and people. Dogs must generalize to any elevator scenario.

  • With patience over time, your dog will lose all apprehension and happily load onto any elevator!

The key is to move slowly based on your individual dog's needs. Rushing the process or putting your dog in an unprepared situation will undermine the training.

Finding the Right Training Location

To set your dog up for success, you need to choose an appropriate elevator to start their training. Here are some tips for finding the ideal location:

  • Use an elevator in your home or apartment building first if possible. Familiar location is less scary.

  • Pick a time when elevator traffic is very low or nonexistent.

  • Notify building management you will be training a dog to get comfortable with the elevator. Ask them to turn off annoying sounds if possible.

  • An outdoor service elevator is also a good option, quiet and roomy.

  • Avoid crowded public elevators in the beginning, far too distracting and scary.

  • Look for a glass elevator if available, glass walls feel less confining.

  • Only use elevators big enough for both of you to fit comfortably with extra room.

Stepping onto a small elevator jam-packed with people would overwhelm even the calmest dog! Set your dog up to succeed by choosing a quiet, spacious elevator in a familiar place for initial sessions.

Preparing Your Dog

Before starting any training, make sure your dog is ready to learn. Here are some ways to prepare your dog:

  • Take them on a long walk beforehand to eliminate excess energy.

  • Give a relaxing massage to calm any nerves.

  • Start training when your dog is already in a calm, submissive state.

  • Use a Thundershirt or calming essential oils if your dog is very easily stressed.

  • Make sure your dog is not overly hungry. They should be focused, not obsessively seeking treats.

  • Time session right after a meal when your dog is content.

  • Use a dedicated training leash and collar, not everyday walking ones.

  • Bring highly valuable "jackpot" treats your dog rarely receives.

The goal is to have your dog relaxed but alert and able to focus solely on you. This mindset allows maximum learning to occur.

What to Bring to Training Sessions

Come prepared to training sessions with plenty of rewards. Here is what you should always bring:

  • Tiny soft treats that can be rapidly eaten and won't crumble. Chicken, cheese, hot dog slices work well.

  • Very special treats only used for elevator training to make it more rewarding. Ideas: meatballs, steak bites, freeze-dried liver.

  • Fanny pack or treat pouch to quickly dispense treats during training.

  • Clickers, squeaky toys, tennis balls to mark and reward desired behaviors.

  • Mat or pad so your dog has a familiar surface to sit on if needed.

  • Long lead if the elevator or hallway is large enough to allow moving around.

  • Favorite toy for playing reward games between run-throughs.

  • Brush for calming strokes and praise if your dog enjoys this.

  • Calming pheromone spray to mist the elevator if you wish.

Always come equipped with plenty of rewards so you can liberally reinforce any brave behavior from your dog during elevator training sessions.

Starting Desensitization

Now it is time to start the desensitization training process. Here are the steps:

  • Begin in hallway far from elevator with doors closed. Let your dog relax.

  • Reward calm, settled behavior. If they are tense, move further away.

  • Gradually work closer to elevator doors as your dog stays relaxed. Go very slowly.

  • If at any point your dog appears stressed, immediately increase distance.

  • As you get closer, start rewarding looks at and steps towards the elevator. Mark and treat any investigatory behavior.

  • Session is over before your dog shows any reluctance or anxiety. Leave them wanting more.

  • Repeat sessions over days and weeks, moving closer to the elevator each time as dog remains calm.

  • If your dog is comfortable eating treats right at the closed doors, they are ready for the next step – going inside.

Proper desensitization starting from a distance laying the foundation for a positive association with the elevator is crucial. Let your dog determine the pacing.

Loading the Elevator

Once your dog is fully comfortable right outside the elevator, it's time to start loading. Here are tips for this step:

  • Open the elevator and let your dog wander inside on their own, reward heavily. No pressure.

  • At first, lure and reward your dog for short stints actually inside the elevator, treat and release.

  • Keep the door wedged open at first while your dog is inside so they don't feel trapped.

  • When your dog seems comfortable for longer times inside, start closing the door for just a second then opening.

  • Gradually increase time with door closed but elevator not moving yet. Go at their pace.

  • If they remain relaxed with door closed, add your verbal release cue such as "all done" then open door.

  • Have "jackpot" rewards ready for when door opens again. Make exiting highly reinforcing.

  • Repeat until dog loads easily and remains calm in stationary elevator with door closed for at least a minute.

Your dog overcoming the fear of confinement in the unmoving elevator is a big milestone! Take it slowly and make sure your dog is truly ready before moving forward.

Taking First Rides

Now it's time for the elevator to actually move with your dog inside. Follow these tips:

  • Keep leash loose but initially hold onto it so you can gently guide dog if needed. Have treats ready.

  • Reward standing calmly, relaxed body language. Verbally praise and encourage your dog.

  • Push just one floor button for the shortest ride possible at first. Just up or down one floor.

  • When elevator starts moving, immediately start feeding treats rapidly and verbally reassure your dog.

  • If dog startles or shows stress, quickly open door and help them exit if possible. Shorten distance next attempt.

  • Use happy tone and keep energy upbeat. This communicates to dog there is no reason for concern.

  • Make rides very short and end on a positive note at first. Gradually work up to longer rides.

  • Vary starting and stopping floors. Ride up from 1st floor. Ride down from 3rd floor. Ride up and down. Etc.

Go against your instincts and avoid comforting a fearful dog. This can reinforce the fear. Keep your energy positive and focus on providing food rewards.

Adding Distractions

Once your dog rides calmly in the elevator alone with you, begin adding distractions. Here are some challenges to incorporate:

  • Practice when elevator is in use with people on it. Reward calm behavior when strangers enter.

  • As doors open, have friend waiting to greet dog to teach doors opening is good. Have treats.

  • Have friend with a calm dog already on elevator when you load. Dogs must learn to share space.

  • Play recordings of elevator dings and beeping sounds at low volumes. Increase over time.

  • Have assistants enter elevator wearing hats, backpacks, sunglasses, and using crutches or wheelchairs.

  • Practice when maintenance crews have equipment running loudly nearby. Desensitize to the sounds.

  • Stand in different spots – back of elevator, corner, right by door. Good experience anywhere inside.

  • When proficient, test on elevators in other buildings. Start small again in new locations.

Gradually introducing distractions, noises, and situations creates a well-rounded education. Your dog will gain confidence and stay calm no matter what the elevator ride experience entails.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

Not every dog will progress smoothly through elevator training. Here are some common problems and how to address them:

  • Dog refuses to step onto elevator – Move more gradually closer over longer timeframe. Lure onto elevator with food placed just inside doors. Praise highly once they step on.

  • Dog seems calm but won't take treats – Lower criteria for giving treats. Reward standing still, looking at elevator, any step towards it. May be stressed without overt signs.

  • Dog takes treats but won't move further into elevator – Toss treats inside to lure further in. Use long lead to gently guide dog all the way in while praising.

  • Dog moves towards elevator then retreats – You are progressing too quickly. Increase distance and work closer more gradually over more sessions before trying to load again.

  • Dog won't stop barking and lunging towards elevator – Sign of high stress. Greatly increase distance and seek guidance from professional trainer at this fear level.

Be flexible and adapt your approach based on your individual dog. Seek professional help from a certified trainer if you encounter aggression or excessive fear.

Using the Cue "Elevator"

Once your dog is fully desensitized and comfortable on elevator rides, add a verbal cue:

  • As your dog is stepping onto the elevator happily, start saying "Elevator!" in an upbeat, encouraging tone.

  • Repeat each time as your dog gets on elevator, for both practice sessions and real rides.

  • After two weeks of consistency pairing the cue, say "Elevator!" before they step on without luring with food.

  • Initially reward with treats after your dog loads with the verbal cue. This links word with action.

  • Over many repetitions, phase out food rewards and just praise when dog loads on cue.

Now you can tell your dog "Elevator!" before entering any elevator and they should step right on without apprehension, ready for the ride!

Generalizing to All Locations

Once your dog rides calmly on your home or building elevator, it's time to generalize the training. Follow these tips:

  • Return to original training elevator and ensure dog is still completely comfortable. Don't move on until behavior is solid here first.

  • Practice in other residential building elevators to get dog comfortable riding in close quarters with strangers. Start short rides.

  • Test at parking garages. Help dog adjust to traffic noises and navigating steep inclines and bumps. Have tasty treats available.

  • Office building elevators often have intimidating lobbies. Practice standing in lobby, rewards for calm behavior as people pass.

  • Department store elevators involve loading quickly among crowds of shoppers. Pair with treats to teach this is fun!

  • If possible, do test runs when you don't really need to use an elevator yet. Set dog up for success before relying on their training.

Always start small in new locations and build back up in duration and distractions. With ample practice, your dog will ride calmly in any elevator!

Tips for Elevator Manners

To ensure your dog is the perfect elevator companion, instill these manners:

  • No whining, barking or lunging at other passengers. Correct gently with a verbal "ah ah!" if needed.

  • Sit, down or stand quietly in corner of elevator car or directly by your side. Reinforce with treats.

  • Keep leash loose but tighten slightly if your dog tries to interact with strangers uninvited.

  • Teach a solid "Leave it" cue to ignore food or belongings others may drop. Reward ignoring.

  • Greet other dogs only when given permission. Use a body block if your dog tries to mug other dogs.

  • Practice proper heel position exiting elevators so your dog doesn't drag you out doors.

  • Respond promptly to "Wait" if the doors start to close too quickly before you both exit.

Polite elevator behavior prevents stress for other riders. Keep rewarding good manners and your dog will be a welcome elevator companion.

Maintenance Training

Once your dog is reliably calm and well-mannered on elevators, maintenance training is important. Follow these guidelines:

  • Use a random reinforcement schedule for praise and occasional treats during rides. Don't treat every single time now.

  • Practice around triggers like door openings and closings, being crowded, etc. to ensure continued desensitization.

  • Set up surprise simulated situations your dog handled poorly to retrain the correct response. Have assistants ride with screaming kids, loud machinery noises, costumes, etc. Pair with high value treats in these scenarios again like initial training.

  • Periodically return to the original training elevator and run through the full sequence from start to finish. Ensure the foundation is still solid.

  • Monitor body language for any signs of regression, fear or stress. Quickly intervene if these crop up and consider a refresher training course.

  • Continue using your elevator cue word and rewarding response. Reinforce proper riding manners using corrections when needed.

Regular maintenance training throughout your dog's lifetime will cement their confidence, obedience and excellent elevator manners.

Real World Tips

Here are some final real world tips for actually relying on your dog's elevator training:

  • Carry treats on you for first few real world outings. Reward calm behavior in novel situations.

  • If your dog appears anxious, opt for the stairs or escalator instead until you can do more training. Don't reinforce fear by consoling them.

  • Use your "Elevator" cue cheerfully before having your dog load up. Reward them every time in the beginning.

  • Hand your dog's leash to another person who can lead them onto the elevator if needed. Carry treats to reward them.

  • Be patient with any setbacks. If your dog struggles in a new scenario, return to basics in a controlled setting and build back up again.

  • Practice on all kinds of outings – going to the vet, pet stores, visiting friends' homes, etc. The more positive experiences the better!

  • Praise successful rides and remind your dog what a good boy or girl they are! Let them know their new skill makes you proud.

With proper preparation, patience and practice, you can have a dog that happily loads onto any elevator, ready for lift off!

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