Training the “Steady” Command
Mar 8th 2016
The word “Steady” is the command word I use when training a service dog to balance my weight and help transition my body from one position to another.
This is a very important and helpful command when training a service dog to do mobility work. You should have basic training commands in place before starting this training. For example the command “Stay” will be most helpful in getting the dog to understand this command. You can read in previous blog articles how to train the stay.
Some examples of situations that will use this command “Steady” word would be. Ascending, climbing and descending stairs. Many toilets are low and lifting off them is often a struggle for a disabled person who has mobility issues. A person who needs to transitions from a wheel chair to a seat or toilet will use this command. If a person needs to stop and rest while walking this command will also work for the handler and service dog team. If a person has fallen and needs the dogs help to get back up this command works well in that situation. A disabled person with limited step height will find this command useful.
How to train the “Steady” First and foremost a dog has to trust you in order for you to put your weight on or even partial weight on the dog’s shoulders. If you have a new service dog and it has not been trained for this it can be a lengthy process, don’t give up, consistency wins. Of course it goes without saying that you must have a service dog that is large enough to do this work. Some dog breeds that could do this work would be a solid German Shepherd, Labrador, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, etc. These dog breeds generally are large enough for this work. You can train the dog to do the “Steady” command while it is sitting or standing, I do both sitting and standing training so the dog will be prepared in different situations and scenarios. Once again a reason to have the dog trained in those basic commands of sit, stay.
Your weight should only be placed on the dog’s shoulder blade area, because that is where the dog can brace itself and has the most stability. You could injure the dog if you put your weight on its back or neck, so in-between the neck and back area and on the shoulders is where to place your hand. To begin this you will not really put your weight onto the dog you will only get the dog accustom to placing your hand on its shoulder blades. This is desensitizing the dog to pushing down and holding on the shoulder area. I train the dog to come with me to the bathroom and stand in front of me as I descend the throne, lol. After a period of time the dog will automatically follow you into the bathroom knowing you want help. As time goes forward you each time push just a little harder down on the dog’s shoulder blade area adding a little more of your weight to it. If the dog get scared and jumps away then you are moving too fast with the command. Slow down speak calmly, don’t over talk to the dog, and assure the dog you are not going to pull the dog down. As times proceed you can put more and more of your weight on the dog’s shoulders to the point that you can pull yourself up or lower your body down. If you use a mobility & balance harness or the wheelchair harness the handle is mounted over the dog’s shoulder blade area and the handle stands up for easy grabbing and holding onto. If you are going to use this type harness you will still need to first practice pushing weight down on the shoulder blades to begin the training.
After the dog successfully learns to help me from a sitting down or getting up position then I move to steps and sidewalk curbs. At this point the dog knows when I am asking it to be “steady” it is holding its body in place waiting for me. On stairs I do one stair step at a time and at each step I ask the dog to “steady” and if it moves up to the next step before I am ready I add the command “stay” in conjunction after the word steady. It isn’t long and the dog will understand that when we go up or down steps it waits at each step and moves slowly. On training the dog to “Steady” the street curb I have the dog put just its front paws up on the curb, tell it steady, stay and then I bring up my body weight up the curb beside the dog. If you have ever fallen you can see how helpful this command could be to you.
Last year while I was placing a service dog with a young soldier who uses a wheelchair I had a most rewarding experience with this “steady” command. When we first meet I showed the solider all the things that the dog was trained to do that could be of help to him. After showing him the “steady” command I said “the dog does this for me, but will have to trust you to let you put your weight on him”. We had been training together for a week and were in the Wal-Mart store. He said to me, “I want to show you what the dog did for me last night”. He called the dog to the side of the wheelchair, gave the “steady” command put one hand on the wheelchair arm, the other hand on the dogs shoulder area gave the “steady” command and pushed his body up off his wheel chair about six inches and balanced there. At that point I was so blessed and knew all my hard work was rewarded with seeing this.
In conclusion if you have a service dog or are training a service dog, and it is a large breed dog, the steady command can be taught to help mitigate the disability and prove a useful tool for you.