Alicia asks: “My dog is absolutely obsessed with skateboards and kids scooters!! She goes mental (like beyond controllable) whenever one goes past us. How can I teach her to tolerate them?”
This sort of behaviour is quite a common problem. It may be the dog reacting to skate boards, bikes, other dogs, people coming to the house, or the postie.
We need to start off by working out why the dog is reacting the way it does. Sometimes it can be excitement and wanting to play, other times it is guarding behaviour, or even a form of fear aggression.
The feedback to the dog is almost always the same. The dog barks at the person/skateboard/bike etc., and the person keeps moving away. The dog thinks it has chased the person away, even though the postie or skateboard was always going to move away. This reinforces the behaviour for the dog, and it builds on that experience.
My approach for training any dog is making everything positive. Punishing a dog for bad behaviour can cause a lot of anxiety issues, and particularly when we’re not sure if the behaviour already relates to the dog being stressed.
My first tip is to do training with your dog every day. Dogs need a lot of mental stimulation, and if they don’t get it, they will get board and find their own way to entertain themselves. It also makes it much easier to adjust inappropriate behaviours. My favourite type of training is called “Clicker Training”. To learn more about clicker training, it’s worth getting a good book. Some examples of books can be found here.
I find desensitisation is normally the best way to break this sort of barking behaviour. Find a treat that your dog absolutely loves (I find dried liver is great). Start off by teaching your dog that it gets a treat when it looks at your face. This is taught over several short lessons, before you head out to where the dog can see a skateboard.
Once your dog has learned that it gets a treat for looking at you, head out to a place where there are skaters in the area but so far away that your dog is just aware of them. This works well if you’ve got a friend with a skateboard who can hang around. When the dog looks at the skateboard, get them to sit and look at you. When they do this, give them a treat. Continue doing this for around 5 minutes, until the dog is consistently looking at you for treats, and only mildly distracted by the skater. If the dog’s behaviour gets worse, calmly end the session and try again the next day.
Over several days and weeks, gradually get closed to the skater and repeat the training session above. As your dog learns that skaters means treats, they will start to look for treats once they see a skater. Suddenly, the skater becomes a good thing because in the dogs mind, skaters = treats.
Some dogs will progress really well with this then get worse again. If that happens, go back to stage one and repeat the process. It can take time, but they get there in the end.
If the dog is reacting to people riding and skating past the house, the process can be a bit slower but it still works. Make sure people going past the house aren’t stimulating or teasing the dog. If that’s happening, it will be very hard to break the behaviour. You may need to move the dog inside or to the back yard at times of high traffic, like before and after school, so the dog can be retrained.