Tips to Stop a Santa Monica Dog From Reacting to Skateboards

Marley is a four-year-old Poodle who lives near the beach in Santa Monica. Her guardians set up a dog behavior training session to address her anxiety and fear of skateboards.

Marley didn’t bark when I knocked on the door, but she did display some dog behavior that can be related to some of her other dog behavior problems; overexcitement.

If we let a dog move in front of us when we answer the door, it can cause them to think we are assisting them in handling door security. When a dog jumps up on a newly arriving human, it is often to claim them or communicate to the guest that the dog is in charge. Although Marley was doing this in a sort of cute way (due to being super cute), allowing this behavior to continue can confuse a dog into thinking it has more authority than it actually does.

Because Marley didn’t have many rules or boundaries, she had gotten the impression she was in a leadership position. If a dog thinks of itself as being in a position of authority, its not uncommon for them to try to help the pack by taking on a job. In Marley’s case, she was trying to help her humans by being a doggy door bouncer of sorts.

But because she often did this guarding to people the family invited in, its likely that Marley had developed some frustration. She is trying to help, but the family disregards and ignores her attempts and over time this can lead to anxiety and other behavior problems.

I suggested a number of rules and ways to enforce them. Consistently enforcing rules helps the humans practice acting like a leader in the dog’s eyes each time they do so. Over time, this can help Marley adopt more of a follower’s mindset.

I also recommended that the guardians start delaying gratification whenever possible. Asking a dog to wait for permission to eat food waiting in a bowl, sit at a door, sit before the human throws the ball are all great ways to help the dog develop self control and build up respect for the humans as authority figures.

To address Munchie’s fear of skateboards, I had the son pull out one of his and roll in on the floor in the living room. As soon as Marley saw the skateboard, he got stiff and moved away. I waited for him to relax a bit then tossed some high value treats near it. I did this to use positive reinforcement to help him start to feel more comfortable with it. This kind of positive dog training is what separates the best dog behaviorist in LA from a dog trainer who tries to correct or punish a dog for engaging in unwanted behaviors.

Once Marley was comfortable enough to approach the skateboard without the stiffness, I went over a counterconditioning exercise with his family.

It was great to see how quickly Marley was able to get over his skateboard fear, but this is just the first step. The guardians will need to continue practicing this counterconditioning technique while gradually decreasing the distance or progressively increasing the speed and sound of the skateboard until Marley is no longer scared of the skateboard.

Marley also has a habit of wanting to chase cars. Based on other reactive behaviors he has, I believe that the major issue this little dog has is disagreeing with things that are moving quickly. Im pretty sure Marley wants to chase the car to tell it she disagrees with it moving too close or too fast.

The good news is the guardian can use the same counterconditioning technique to help change Marley’s perception of a car as something to correct into something she feels good about.

ROADMAP to SUCCESS

  • Stop petting Marley when he is over excited.
  • Do not pet Marley when he is nervous or anxious
  • Pet Marley with a purpose.
  • Use passive training to reward Marley for desired actions and behaviors.
  • Instead of saying good girl, say the command word at the same time you start petting him or give the treat.
  • Use the escalating consequences to disagree with any unwanted action or behavior.
  • Remember to pet or correct Marley within 3 seconds.
  • Incorporate rules and boundaries and make sure everyone in the family enforces them consistently.
  • Practice tossing the treats to get Marley to use the dog bed on command.
  • Avoid picking Marley up when he misbehaves.
  • Increase her daily exercise, especially early in the day.
  • Start taking Marley back to the local dog park for socialization and problem solving practice.
  • Consider having the family’s son take her out to the bike path on the beach so she can pull him on his skateboard or just run along side him.
  • Have friends come by to play the part of a guest at the door so the family members can practice claiming the area around the door before opening it.
  • Practice the counterconditioning exercise with skateboards, cars and anything else she reacts to.
  • Add structure to meal time, only giving permission to eat after a human eats first.
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