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!