Ask the Trainer: Helping a Dog Overcome a Fear During Walks
(Kevin Duggan, CPDT-KA in Ask the Trainer)
What do you do, when your dog is scared to death of skateboards? Coco is a big gal, so when one pops up, she about tears my arm off to get away. Skate boards are everywhere, so it is hard to go anywhere without running into one.
I would like to help you keep your arm in your socket. My first recommendation is to find something that Coco absolutely loves. E.g. string cheese, hot dogs, turkey, chicken, a toy etc. This is going to be used to help her build a positive association when she sees the scary skateboards. My second recommendation is to use a double leash system. The freedom harness is a wonderful tool because it has two different places to hook a leash on. One of which can be connected to your belt. This is important because with that fear, she is obviously a flight risk. Safety first I always say.
With these tools we can move forward with the rehabilitation. The best way to fix this is going to be to introduce very low levels of this stimuli while giving Coco things that she loves. I recommend getting a skateboard and putting it in a room with you and Coco. Just leave it there and do not touch it. We do not want any movement in regards to the skateboard because it may startle her. The next step is going to be tossing whatever she loves all around it. The ultimate goal is for you to place her treats on top of the skateboard and her to get them off confidently. It may take a few different sessions of this before she confidently takes the treat off of it. You can encourage her to get close to the skateboard , but do not force her to. Let her adjust at her own pace. When she is doing that with confidence start to slowly move the skateboard around with your hand while continuing to reward her. With repetition she should start to tolerate skateboards, or even start to enjoy the presence of one.
This next part involves the harness leash system that I mentioned previously. This is because the next thing I recommend is going out into the environment where you usually encounter these skateboards. The most important thing is distance. The closer she is to these people on skateboards the more frightened she will be. Start off extremely far away so that she can see them but it doesn’t make her that uncomfortable. Start giving her the things she loves. If that is going smoothly and she is getting confident start to decrease your distance from the skateboards. Moving closer may not be possible in the first session. Do not rush this as it’s all about Coco staying comfortable. If at any point she starts getting uncomfortable start moving further away. More distance should make her feel better.
Do this at her pace and she should start to feel more comfortable in the presence of skateboards. Remember to stay patient and positive as this can take some time to conquer.
Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA
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