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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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3 thoughts on “Dog is Afraid of Elevators”

  1. Hi John,

    I have a Chihuahua who became afraid of the elevator in my building. She would step out our door, sit down, and somehow transform into a 10,000 lb elephant. She’s fine with the elevator now after I carried her down the hall, got her in the elevator, and gave her treats; but getting her down the hall is another story. I’ve gone a few steps, and called her to get a treat, rinsed, and repeated, but even after a couple of weeks, she’s an elephant until the treats come out. By the way, she’ll happily go down the hall the other way (then stop and sit when we get back to our door).

    Chis are stubborn in my experience, but I overcame the last three I had. This little diva has me befuddled.

    1. Hi Jodi, Take this with a grain of salt as before I would give definitive guidance for this sort of issue I would want to get a proper history and a deeper dive regarding what might have contributed to this sudden change in behavior as we don’t just want to solve your problem, we want to solve your elephant’s problem

      You might consider what Mel Robbins (not a dog trainer, she’s a lawyer, television host, author, and motivational speaker) calls The Five Second Rule. She believes that when we want to change a behavior in ourselves (go to the gym, eat better, learn a new language) once we’ve decided to ‘act’ on it, go to the gym, not eat the donut, etc. if we ‘think’ about it for more than a count of five we will almost always talk ourselves out it. I’ve found this too often to be the case in some aspects of dog training. If it’s just stubbornness, or what may have been a one-off bad experience and subsequent avoidance behavior and you don’t get the dog in motion inside of 5 seconds, the dog will embrace the behavior more vigorously the next time.

      As mentioned, there’s more to it than that alone, but keep in mind if in your dog’s eyes you are the loving authority figure/teacher and not a roommate the idea of hearing from a loving authority figure/teacher/mother, “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you …” is not a foreign concept in the overall relationship. I’m not saying this is all that’s in play here, and as I did say, I would want a lot more information before encouraging you to do anything at all, I just thought I’d throw that out there as a possibility.

      – John Wade (

      1. Thank you so much, John! That provides a great deal of insight. I’m hearing impaired, so I don’t pick up on everything in the environment. My boyfriend tells me the elevator was making a different, somewhat menacing mechanical noise. It’s not there now, according to him, but perhaps there is some past trauma with my ele, I mean Ellie.

        She’s a pound puppy. Very unusual. She rescued me at the beginning of November last year, and since then I have only heard her bark 3 or 4 times. My boyfriend has never heard her, nor have my neighbors. She doesn’t seem to growl either.

        I’ll take it slow with her until I have a better sense of what’s going on. Perhaps a closer look by my vet is in order. Thank you again!

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