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Dog is Afraid of Elevators

I have a male chocolate Labrador Retriever. He has never been in an elevator. I am moving to an apartment in a few months. I have made a few attempts to introduce him to the building but he appears to be afraid of elevators. He refuses to enter and pulls back and won’t budge. Any suggestions?


Hi L.D.

I just overcame a similar problem with my dog Odie. I have in the back of my pickup truck a heated, insulated kennel with a skylight and fans to circulate the air, special anti-bacterial flooring, vents on fronts and sides.

Imagine my delight when after going to all that expense I opened the kennel door and said, “Your mansion awaits” and he high tailed it in the other direction with me bouncing off the truck’s tailgate. I’ve learned with Odie that you might as well try to put contact lenses in a cat’s eyes as try and get Odie to do something he really doesn’t want to do no matter how good it might be for him. For this problem, I turned to clicker training.

You can buy a basic clicker for a few dollars at any pet supply. It’s called a clicker because it makes a click sound when you press it. It’s wildly popular with some dog trainers and is all they use. I think that’s a limiting mistake though that neither serves, dogs or dog owners well. I’m always a little leery of any trainers overall dog knowledge when they believe all it takes to build a house is a hammer. I think it’s worth it to find a balanced trainer that uses clicker training as one of their tools.

In this case it’s likely the right tool for the job. Simply put, here’s the concept. Go as near to the elevator as your dog is comfortable and take a couple steps away from it. Toss a treat towards the elevator but within his comfort zone and let him eat it. Take him back and do it a few more times. Then wait and when your dog so much as puts his foot or nose in the direction of the elevator click and then give him a treat. Initially he won’t have a clue but in a bit he’ll connect the click with the treat and try and figure out what he just did that led to you clicking and him getting a treat. When he does figure this out he’ll start to do some experimenting. You want to click and treat even the smallest movement in the correct direction. If he stalls at a certain area take a couple of steps back again. Toss some freebies on the floor and start again.

Timeline depends on your skill level and the extent of his fear. It might take 10 minutes or 10 days. It took Odie ten minutes to get him in and a few days before he’d get in, back up, turn around, pull in his toes and basically jump in without hesitation every time. Now he almost pees himself with joy when he sees he’s going in as he knows when that door opens he gets to go running.

Something simpler might be to let him play with a buddy dog not worried about the elevator and then take them both in. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Pawsitively yours,

John Wade

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