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Guide Dog Class Lectures: Working in Buildings

Key Points

  • Finding a Building Doorway
  • Directing inside a Building / Locating an Exit
  • Stairs
  • Elevators
  • Escalators
  • Revolving Doors

This material addresses the basic elements of working in buildings: How to find a building as well as its entrances and exits, and whether to work or heel once inside. Also included in this section is how to move between floors (stairs, elevators and escalators). The final section addresses the practical topic of maintaining your dog’s behavior and appearance in public.

Building Location and Characteristics
Knowing its approximate location is the first step to finding a new store, restaurant or building. Phoning ahead of departure can be helpful. What is the nearest cross street? Where is it along the block? Do you need to leave the sidewalk before finding a recessed doorway? Are there stairs or ramps before you arrive at the door? Other environmental clues such as the aroma of a bakery, the clank of dishes and silverware in a diner or the echo of a deeply recessed doorway will help you target your specific destination. If you are traveling on a campus, are there landmarks that can be a clue that you are near the building you want?

Finding a Doorway
There are different methods to finding a doorway. If you are attempting to locate an unfamiliar doorway with your guide, you may make an educated guess as to its location and do a moving turn to find the door. This method can involve trial and error. Another option is to halt when you believe you are close to the entrance and locate the doorway using your cane while heeling your dog. An additional approach is to have someone cue you to stop so you can make a turn from a stationary position. Whichever method you use, once you find the door give food reward and hearty praise to your dog for finding it. This reinforcement will help your dog find the door on subsequent visits.

Moving Turns
Moving turns are often done when entering and navigating inside buildings. Your dog interprets a moving turn as a request to turn at the next available opportunity. To review, the components of a moving turn include slowing yourself down, changing your body position relative to the dog, repeating directional commands with your voice and giving appropriate hand gestures.

Experienced guides may demonstrate “intelligent disobedience” by not responding immediately to your verbal and body cues because there may not be an opening available. Inexperienced guide dogs, however, may be hesitant to move off their current line to seek out an unfamiliar one even when an opening is available. If you new guide dog does not respond to a moving turn verbal cue after several strides, stop and do a turn from a stationary position. Once a guide dog has been reinforced at the door and gone inside a building once, the doorway becomes more relevant to the dog and she will be more motivated to find it for you next time.

Directing Your Dog Inside
After entering the building, work forward a few paces to allow other people access to the door too. If you do not know the layout of the store or building, you can either wait near the entrance or work up to an obvious counter and ask for assistance. If you are familiar with the building, then you can direct your dog accordingly.

Depending on personal preference and the layout of the store, you may choose to either heel or work your dog. If aisles are very narrow or crowded with displays and other obstacles, you may want to set your harness handle down and go sighted guide or use your cane while you heel your dog. Another option is to hold onto a shopping cart while someone else pulls the cart from the front.

Many buildings are perfectly fine for doing guidework. If you are in an unfamiliar building and you solicit assistance, you may need to instruct the person how best to give you directions. For example, "Would you please walk behind me and alert me of upcoming turns, so I can direct my dog accordingly?”. Another option is to follow someone else. The ‘follow’ verbal cue gives your dog permission to follow someone while he or she walks ahead and talks to you. You may have to prompt the person to keep talking to you, not your dog. Since most dogs enjoy following, this practice could become habitual so use this command in moderation.

Locating the Exit
When leaving a store, face your dog in the general direction of the exit. Direct your dog with "Forward…Outside", repeating the verbal cue occasionally and gesturing in the direction of the door. Your dog will seek the door, especially if it is in view, or attempt to reverse the route you traveled through the store. In a complicated, unfamiliar or large building, you may need to have someone confirm your orientation as you direct your dog.

Orientation after Exiting
When you leave a building, work your dog forward a number of paces (enough to clear the storefront), “halt” and then make the desired turn. A moving turn is acceptable as well. Another option is to work to the down curb (if there is one present). This brief exercise of making your dog work straight from the doorway ensures three things:

  • You are clear of the building, a recessed doorway and any sidewalk obstacles
  • Your dog does not turn right or left before you say so
  • Your dog will readily listen to you if, in the future, you want to travel a different direction from that building

You might find it helpful to work your dog all the way across the sidewalk to the curb or other landmark, especially if it helps to clarify your orientation. In some situations (e.g. malls, campus plazas) there is no street curb and simply working a few steps outside and then turning is more practical.

Moving Between Floors

Going up: As with up curbs, your guide dog will often identify the bottom of a staircase by stepping his or her front paws up onto the first stair.

Going down: Just like down curbs, your dog should stop with her paws at the edge of the top stair.

Guide Dogs are not trained to show you the hand rail at stairs. They view these as obstacles to clear. If you need to use a hand rail and cannot feel it from where your dog stopped, simply set the harness handle down and side-step until you reach it. Once you reach the hand rail, you may either work or heel your dog. If you regularly need a hand rail at stairs, it is easy to reinforce your dog for showing the rail to you. Check with your instructor on how to do it.

After you locate an elevator door, set the harness handle down, step back a few paces and call your dog to heel position. This clears the immediate area so passengers can get out when the door opens. While waiting, hold the harness handle so you will be ready to enter when the elevator door opens. Say, "Forward, inside" working into the elevator. Your dog does not need to stop or pause at the threshold. If possible, move toward the opposite or rear wall of the elevator. Once there, set your harness handle down and do an about-turn to face the door. If there is time, have your dog sit while riding.

To exit, work your dog out. In crowded elevators, it may be more practical to heel your dog out, before you resume guidework.

The moving stairs on escalators have metal “teeth” that fit into each other when they run flat at the beginning and end of the ride. The possibility of severe injury to a dog’s bare feet is always present. It has been shown that when an injury has occurred to a dog in training, it is almost always to the rear feet. Because of this, it is mandatory that all of our dogs in training wear booties on their rear feet when riding escalators, both pre-class and throughout all class sessions. As part of an ongoing effort to protect your dog’s feet, following graduation it is expected that you continue with this practice when using escalators. Included in the standard equipment issued to all GDB students are dog booties for use both in class and later in the field. For optimal boot fit have your dog’s nails and excess paw hair trimmed regularly. Any hair extending below the bottom of the pads of the foot should be kept clipped. Nails should be short enough that they do not touch the ground when the dog is standing with weight on the foot. Using good technique and keeping your dog’s rear feet protected with booties will increase your chances of safe escalator use and limit the potential for injury.

GDB encourages its clients to avoid escalators whenever there is a reasonable alternative. That being said, escalator training in class is provided only if you find it necessary for you to use escalators in your travels. You will have numerous opportunities to practice escalator technique with your new dog. Students who require escalator training must use the style and brand of dog boots that are recommended by GDB. These boots have been identified as the safest and most appropriate for escalators. Using a boot that does not have a stiff, formed sole can increase the potential for injury on escalators. If you need replacements, GDB sells dog boots to students and alumni at a discounted price.

Two Options for Using Escalators
The first involves heeling onto and off of the escalator. This option works best for clients who may need to walk off the escalator at their own pace.

The second option involves heeling onto the escalator and picking up the harness handle to work off. This option eliminates the need to reposition the dog once off the escalator (which prevents blocking other people exiting behind the team), and allows the team to work around obstacles that may be located near the exiting plate.

Escalator Technique – Heeling to Board AND Exit


  • Locate the moving hand rail with your right hand and praise the dog.
  • Set the harness handle down. Hold the leash short and very close to your dog’s collar with your left hand low, near your dog’s neck.
  • Locate the edge of the moving stairs using either your left or right foot.
  • Pause before boarding. This ensures that the steps in front of you will be clear of pedestrians.
  • Give a “let’s go” verbal cue, as you step onto the escalator. Praise.


  • Immediately after boarding, place your right foot on the step ahead of your dog. This means that your left foot will be on the same step as your dog’s front feet.
  • With your left hand, loop a finger under your dog’s collar. If your dog tries to keep moving, gently stop your dog with collar pressure. Calmly praise your dog.
  • With your right hand, reach as far forward on the handrail as is comfortable. This means your right arm will be extended ahead of you and your dog, as is your right foot.
  • If possible, adjust your leash grip so you are holding only the end, with your finger still under your dog’s collar.


  • As you feel the escalator about to level off, begin moving forward while enthusiastically saying “ready, ready… let’s go!” Allow your dog freedom to move forward on a fully loose leash.
  • As you step off, keep your leash loose. This allows your dog the freedom to focus on its exit. A tight leash will interfere with your dog’s exit. The safest way to manage the exit plate is to let your dog deal with it.
  • Walk forward enough to clear the escalator exit area, allowing your dog to move out in front of you. Praise your dog!
  • Bring your dog into heel position. You may want to offer a food reward. Praise your dog for a ride well done.

Escalator Technique – Heeling to Board / Working off to Exit


  • Locate the moving hand rail with your right hand and praise the dog.
  • Set the harness handle down. Hold the leash short and very close to your dog’s collar with your left hand low, near your dog’s neck.
  • Locate the edge of the moving stairs using either your left or right foot.
  • Pause before boarding. This ensures that the steps in front of you will be clear of pedestrians.
  • Say “let’s go” as you step onto the escalator and praise your dog.


  • After boarding, place your right foot either on the same step as your dog’s front feet or on the step ahead of your dog, whichever is most comfortable for you.
  • With your left hand, pick up the harness handle and put your leash away (place under your left index finger). Calmly praise your dog.
  • Extend your right arm as far forward on the handrail as is comfortable and grasp with your right hand.


  • As you feel the handrail begin to level off, give the verbal cue ‘forward’.
  • Work forward off the escalator and onto the next destination (another escalator, entry / exit door, stairs, clothes rack, cashier counter, etc.).
  • Give food reward at this location

Revolving Doors

Revolving doors usually have two to four panels that have wedge-shaped spaces. The doors move in a circular, counter-clockwise direction. Normally there are standard doors located nearby. Electrically-powered revolving doors are generally not safe to use with a guide dog.

If you do intend to use a revolving door, locate the entrance, set your harness handle down, and face the direction you are going to move. Pass your leash behind you as you say “over-here”. Your dog should be on your right side and you will be holding the leash short in your right hand. Keep your leash hand forward so your dog’s back feet won’t be bumped. Gently push the panel in front of you and follow your dog as he exits.

This lecture has discussed the mechanics of guidework in buildings. As a guide dog user, you have the right to access most public places and buildings with your guide dog. This right, of course, is conditional upon your guide’s behavior and hygiene. Whether your dog is guiding you or by your side, everyone will appreciate a dog that is well behaved and clean.

Audio Streaming

You can stream the audio of the class lecture here, via a Soundcloud widget. If using a screen reader, please select the "Play" option below.