Escalators and moving sidewalks are everywhere in today’s convenience driven-world. Today’s Service Dog teams are likely to regularly encounter them, especially teams that travel, work in a large or multi-story office building or those that enjoy frequenting the mall. For humans, getting on an escalator or moving sidewalk is simple: step on. For Service Dogs, though, there are some additional considerations for safety.
Escalators are pretty simple. They’re moving staircases designed for getting lots of people from one floor to another with minimal effort. They consist of linked steps that operate on a track, and that are driven at a consistent speed by a low-power motor. They work great for most people who simply want an easy ride to or from one floor of a building to another, but for Service Dog teams, escalators are a blessing a curse.
There are many concerns in the Service Dog world about escalator usage. One of the biggest revolves around the moving parts on an escalator. At the top and bottom of an escalator, the steps flatten out horizontally, and then they feed back into the “loop” that cycles behind the scenes to keep the escalator moving. For Service Dog teams, a huge fear is that small paws or longer fur will get caught in the link mechanism or at the end of the escalator during that split second of time there’s a gap.
Another issue is that without proper training and socialization, Service Dogs can be fearful of the escalator or moving sidewalk. It has an odd texture (grooved and ridged metal), the grate surrounding the entrance and exit is off-putting, and there’s a low mechanical hum. Additionally, people often hurry or rush and they’re typically carrying large items, like luggage or lots of shopping bags. Space is tight, and anything less than a relaxed and calm Service Dog could cause major disturbance and stress, not only for the handler, but also for those around the team.
Many Service Dog Teams Opt Out
The great thing about modern urban society are the plethora of escalator alternatives. If you don’t want to ride that contraption, you don’t have to. You can take the stairs or hop on an elevator, and the problem is solved. Many Service Dog teams simply do not take escalators or moving sidewalks, and they don’t train for the possibility. They simply resolve to always use the stairs or take the elevator, and that’s just fine. There’s nothing that says your Service Dog MUST be able to navigate an escalator, and teaching a Service Dog to do so is completely up to the discretion of the training program or handler. If a handler or trainer isn’t comfortable with escalator or moving sidewalk usage, then there are always other options.
However, for other teams, avoiding escalators or moving sidewalks isn’t part of their game plan. For whatever reason, they’re regularly faced with this common urban obstacle, and it’s important that their dog be able to navigate it safely and with ease. Very rarely, teams may not be able to bypass escalators, so again, it’s important for Service Dogs to know how to be safe.
Teaching Safe and Proper Escalator Manners
It’s important to teach your dog to “hop,” not walk, over the beginning and end of the escalator.
walk across all types of flooring, especially metallic ones. Grates and diamond grid plates laid in sidewalks are great tests of this. Offer lots of encouragement and reinforcement when introducing new surfaces to your partner; it’ll pay off in the long run.
Next, find an escalator without a lot of foot traffic. Walk across the plating at the entrance to the escalator several times to familiarize your Service Dog with the feel, vibration and proximity to the escalator. Again, offer lots of reinforcement.
When you’re ready to actually get on the escalator, grab a couple of treats and approach it briskly and confidently. Don’t act like it’s anything out of the ordinary. Step over the first very bottom step or two, and lure your partner up with you, so that you guys bypass the point where the steps are fed out from the loop entirely. Take a couple steps up, rewarding your partner for each step, so that your partner’s back legs also miss the feed point.
It’s the exit that’s tricky, as you need your partner to again avoid the feed point where the steps disappear back into the mechanism. Using a treat, prepare yourself and your partner a few feet back from the exit, and use a verbal count down to help your partner learn to expect what comes next. “One, two, three.”
On three, hop over the feed line (don’t just step), and help your partner do the same. At no point should your dog’s feet touch the feed point where the steps go back into the loop. Reward your Service Dog frequently for while on the escalator itself, especially when just teaching/introducing it, and always ensure your partner exits the machine with a small “hop.”
Do you and your Service Dog use escalators or moving sidewalks? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Comment below!
Jesse Wade July 8, 2015
Great article! However, I would like to point out that there are many of us with disabilities that don’t allow us to “hop” over the feed line at the end. Personally, I am in the group that will not use the escalator with my SD. Years ago I did use it with my service dog, on numerous occasion without any problems. Then, one evening as we were leaving the airport we rode on one, and as we were exiting, her toenail got caught and was ripped to the quick causing pain for her and stress for me as I worked to stop the bleeding. Because of this experience and the fact that I am unable to hop, I will not use the escalator with my SD. Maybe there is another way to teach the exit for those who cannot exit in the way you describe here?
Kea Grace July 10, 2015
Great point, Jesse, and thanks for sharing your concerns. The hop is so much more for the dog than the handler – as long as the handler is wearing proper footwear (no flip flops or loose strings dragging the ground), there’s no need to hop. Many handlers have success with using a treat lure to teach their dog to “pop” up and then settle back down, almost as if the dog were jumping over an invisible bar jump. The point is to have your dog avoid contact with the part of the escalator that feeds, where the steps break apart exposing anything but a smooth surface.
Another method might be to teach your dog to jump over a very low bar (2″-4″ off the ground), and then fade the bar as a prop, so that your dog popped up on cue.
cissy July 10, 2015
I’m able bodied and won’t use escalators with my SDs for the same reason unless I absolutely have to.
Monica July 9, 2015
As Jesse mentioned there are many of us who cannot hop. I myself have balance issues and even getting on an escolator without my SD is not possible. Plus there is no way I will jeopardize my SD. I have had 3 Service dogs over the years and non of them have ever ridden an escalator. They all have walked on sidewalk grating and over the grated foot bridges at the river front park. No problems. There is no place I am in that much of a hurry that I would risk my partner.
Kea Grace July 10, 2015
Monica, it’s definitely a personal choice that each team makes for themselves. 🙂 For some teams, escalators are unavoidable, but usually, there are other options. As always, it’s important to put safety first and use proper technique, regardless of the route you’re taking. Thanks for chiming in!
Jesse Wade July 10, 2015
Kea, thank you for the additional training suggestions. I think they will be quite helpful for those who intend to use escalators while with their service dogs. I would like to suggest if I may, that teaching back leg awareness to your SDs would also be of benefit for escalator training, should one have the desire to teach it.
Kea Grace May 2, 2016
Jesse, my pleasure! Definitely agree on the hind end awareness being beneficial – I’m of the mind that it’s beneficial for all working K9s and Service Dogs, as it is usually important for them to be able to adjust their position based on their handler’s movement, regardless of how their handler moves.
Johanna October 17, 2015
Do you think that as a safety precaution you could have your Service Dog wear dog boots while training to hop over the start and end, and possibly all the times you know you will need to use an escalator? Any thoughts on this idea?
Kea Grace May 2, 2016
Lots and lots and lots of Service Dog teams, especially teams in urban environments, wear boots as part of their every day attire, and they can, in fact, reduce lots of the risks associated with dogs on escalators, same as wearing shoes reduces injuries to humans. It’s important that the boots be sized correctly and that your dog is conditioned to wearing them, and finds them enjoyable or at least tolerable.
cissy October 22, 2015
I think it might be easy for a loose portion of a boot to get caught in an escalator. Personally, I wouldn’t do it.
Kea Grace May 2, 2016
Cissy, as long as the boot itself is properly fitted and the Service Dog in question is boot conditioned and used to wearing their boots, then boots would, indeed, make escalators safer for the dog. Lots of boot brands are made so there are no loose ends or danglies or excess fabric – Muttluks and Ruffwear are two excellent examples that are widely used by working teams all over the world.
Cissy stamm May 2, 2016
Thank you Kea
Roymond November 14, 2015
I never had an issue with it. From the start, when training Bammer on the streets, every time we came to a curb I I said, “Jump up!’ or “Jump down1”, which reduced to just “Jump!” very quickly. So the first time we had to use an escalator, I said, “Jump!” and he landed on the second step without a hitch. At the bottom, I gave the same command the moment the step below him started to vanish, and he did it without a hitch. The only issue was that he wanted to climb the steps instead of sitting still.
He’s not so thrilled about it since he was set on by coyotes once when I let him have some free time at the beach. I’m not sure what’s going on there, but when there’s an elevator or steps nearby I humor him.
Sharon January 29, 2017
I’m picking up my niece at the airport in a couple of days and my SD never seen an escalator and may not again for months if ever. We really don’t have them in Florida. I would like to try him but not when I’m on a timely situation. I’ll just use the elevator this time around. No need to make a stressful situation for either him or me. I too have bad balance and equilibrium issues and never liked getting on those things to begin with… Great read from others though…… Thanks
Stephen September 19, 2017
My.service dog has been trained in the 123 jump method for over a year and a half now. Yesterday, in my inattention due to a mentally ill homeless man approaching us at the top of the escalator, I was not looking when we reached the top and heard a yelp from my lil boy and saw blood coming from his foot. It was very upsetting and he needed stitches on his back right paw where one of the pad split open. We have never had an issue before and he’s always done so well. Escalators are unfortunately a part of our every day life so we will have to continue the training after he heals. But we need to remember that it is still a dangerous machine for a small dog, and I need to remember to never let my attention linger when on one, even with the possibility of dangerous people approaching.
Alex November 2, 2017
What about extra-large dog breeds (i.e. Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, and Mastiffs) where “hopping” might be difficult do to their size on the escalator? Extra large dogs tend to have difficulty manuvering on narrow stairs, and in my experience, escalators do not have wide steps. (Depth wise)