Teaching a 70 lb Service Dog to Tuck into a Tight Space!
I was recently asked how to train your dog to load up into the floor area in the passenger seat of a vehicle. Since I'm always the driver, Azul typically rides in the backseat and not the floor space therefore I've never taught him to do this. However Service Dogs may need to ride in other people's vehicles where staying on the floor is important. At 70 lbs I wasn't sure if he would fit.
To train this I use a harness and a longline because my driveway is not secure. I want Azul to have the choice to participate in training or leave if he is done or getting frustrated. While you see me touching the line to keep it from tangling a few times, I'm not controlling Azul with the line.
It's always a good idea to give dogs a choice to participate in training or opt out, especially when you are training something that may present challenges or possibly be aversive. I want Azul to have the freedom to walk away from the vehicle if he needs a break or is done. Watch your dog closely during all training sessions for small signs of stress so you can stop the session before they become overwhelmed.
In the video above, I'm using cues Azul already knows:
- Paws Up (front paws only)
- All the Way Up (all paws up)
- Turn Around (spin or change directions)
- Sit & Down
- Chin (to do a chin rest on my lap)
Since Azul is already used to doing Paws Up and All the Way in the backseat, I start there simply asking for simple behaviors for my high value reinforcement. Building up skill momentum by rewarding easy skills can encourage the dog to try more difficult skills. These easy steps also demonstrate to Azul that I'm OK with him getting in and out of the car as he chooses. Azul has previously been trained not to get out of the car without permission so I really want to make sure he understands this is training and we are not going for a ride.
Once he's been in and out of the vehicle a few times I start adding in the sit and down. At this point I'm reinforcing any sits and downs he gives me even if he is not in the perfect position. He can sit facing me or off to the side and still get rewarded. When we add down, he mostly chooses to lay with his paws and face out the door. This is an important step because it is helping him to feel safe and comfortable in a tight and confining space. I don't want to move on to the next step until he is totally comfortable. At the end of this video, I'm thinking that we will stop at this point because Azul doesn't seem totally relaxed so I decide to one more video from the inside of the vehicle.
Azul surprises me in this video as I didn't expect him to reach the correct position. However he sat near perfectly so I decided to ask for a chin rest on my leg to see what would happen. I'll have to admit, I wasn't planning on using the chin rest cue, but Azul was struggling with down and asking for the chin rest on my lap which was lower then Azul's head led to him choosing to lay down on his own. When he gets into the perfect position with his head on my lap, Azul gets a treat party with rapid reinforcement. During this treat party I can give him the "tail" cue which basically means I'm going to move his tail for him into the position I want. I need to do this before shutting the door. I give more reinforcement with the door open to make sure Azul is comfortable then shut the door for just a few seconds. Once the door is open, Azul is happy to get out as quickly as possible to do a shake off. The shake off demonstrates the session was just a bit hard for Azul and we definitely quit at the right time.
Azul moves through the positions rather quickly because he knows them all really well and I have a high rate of reinforcement. You may need to break these steps into multiple sessions with a younger or less experienced dog. Moving forward, I will do a couple more sessions like this before we actually do a session with someone else driving the car.
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