Elevators and stairs, oh my!

Logan is a service dog in training.
Visit his page for more information and to read all of my blog posts about him.

Logan and I have been going lots of places and practicing lots of skills recently. Last week, he came with me to my office at the university several times. We also visited the university union and went out to lunch one day at a local restaurant.

Logan the service dogOverall, Logan has been on his best behavior, and I have been very proud of him!

When we go places, I always try to anticipate what might happen and then try to set up the situation so that Logan will be able to be successful. For example, since I hadn’t taken him out to eat before, we went to a small, local restaurant, and we went for a late lunch because I knew the restaurant wouldn’t be quite as crowded.

However, I can’t anticipate everything, and we occasionally run into situations that are too complicated for what Logan can handle with his current level of training. If we do run into these sorts of situations, we exit the situation as gracefully as we can, and then I make a plan so that we will be better prepared the next time.

Two things that Logan needs to practice are stairs and elevators. So, we’ve been working a lot with both of those recently.

Little steps on the stairs

My office at the university is on the top floor of a three-story building. When climbing the stairs, you can look through the railings and through the slats on the stairs to see down below. Although Logan will follow me willingly up and down these open stairs, he certainly doesn’t like them.

scary open slat stairsRather than continue to ask Logan to go up and down the scary stairs, we’ve decided to use the elevator for now. Meanwhile, we are working on training exercises to help Logan become more comfortable and confident on the stairs.

We’re taking things one step at a time, literally. Logan and I started by walking up to the stairs and having him put his front feet on the first step. Click and treat! (What is clicker training?) Then, I let him circle around me and come back down the stairs.

This was pretty easy for Logan, but that was the point. I wanted to make sure Logan was completely confident with each step before moving on.

Logan the service dog practices going up the scary stairsNext, we walked just a little bit farther, so that I stopped on the first step, and Logan stopped with his front two feet on the second step. Then, after some repetition of this, we moved on to the third step, and then the fourth.

When things are going well during training, it’s easy to get greedy and try to do too much. Although Logan was doing really well with this, I realized that this was also taking a lot of thinking and concentration on his part. So, over the weekend, we continued to practice just stopping on the first, second, third, or fourth step.

He did get to practice on Sunday on the stairs with one of my friends, and that was good practice for generalizing the behavior to another trainer. Once he’s super confident with the first four steps, we’ll add more. We’re not in any rush, since we can take the elevator for now.

Practicing with distractions at the elevator

Logan the service dog works on focusingMeanwhile, the elevator offers lots of opportunities to practice other behaviors, such as waiting patiently for the elevator to arrive, sitting quietly on the elevator, and entering and exiting the elevator.

Importantly, the elevator also means we may come into close proximity with other people. And, the location of this particular elevator makes things more difficult, as it is easy for people to come around the corner without me seeing them.

Logan’s a friendly boy, and he really likes people. This is good for a service dog, because he wants to be right by my side and is very attentive. However, he still gets distracted in public if people come up suddenly.

We had a minor “oops” moment last week while we were waiting for the elevator. A woman came quickly around the corner, squealed in delight to see the cute yellow dog at my side, and then walked right over to us with her hands down to pet Logan. It was all way too exciting, and Logan was more than happy to get up out of his sit and try to go over to her to get some scratches.

Service dog Logan practices riding the elevatorWe did as best we could, with me pulling him back and instructing the woman not to pet him. But, it certainly wasn’t ideal, and it allowed him an opportunity to practice an incorrect behavior.

This is a hard situation to practice, since I can’t anticipate when people will come walking up quickly. So, rather than leave this to chance, several of the ORCA students and I met up this weekend to role-play different situations with the elevator.

We practiced easy at first. A person came up quietly and stood at some distance from Logan while he was waiting for the elevator. Then, we gradually made things harder. We varied the speed of the approaching person, how close the person approached, and the amount of animation in the person’s voice. We also practiced getting on and off the elevator with other people.

This is certainly a skill that will take some more training, but Logan made good progress during our practice this weekend.

Looking forward

As we keep practicing, I’m sure we’ll find other situations that are difficult for Logan. When this does happen, we’ll analyze the situation and come up with a plan and some training exercises to help Logan master the distracting or scary thing. And, as we continue training, I’ll be sure to share more stories here on the blog.

Logan the yellow lab service dog

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