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Max, the normally friendly, relaxed Rottweiler puppy, goes berserk whenever he is on a walk with his owner and a skateboarder passes. He lunges at the hapless skateboarder and barks hysterically. Even though he is a puppy, Max can be an intimidating dog. He usually startles the border, which could result in an accident if someone becomes distracted and loses their balance, or misses a change in terrain. Max’s owner does not want people to be frightened by Max. what can he do to break Max’s skateboarding hostility?
Skateboarders and bicyclists are common triggers for dogs and puppies to bark at. They tend to trigger the prey-predator response, or because they move unexpectedly, visually presenting a human standing still while moving fast, which is confusing and some dogs can interpret this as threatening. Either can result in barking behavior and overreacting to the presence of a skateboard, especially in a puppy that is not used to novel sights and sounds, and may easily be excited or intimidated.
You will want your puppy to ignore, or react calmly but with curiosity or interest, in passing skateboarders. To develop this behavior, you want to create either a neutral or positive association with skateboards, to replace the excited or threatened response your puppy has previously been displaying. To do this, you will need to capture the moment your dog first notices the skateboard and positively reinforce your puppy or distract him from his barking behavior. This requires timing and practice for success. Since puppies are usually quite malleable, and their reactions to stimuli like skateboards are usually more easily changed then those of an older dog, that has a more ingrained response.
Acclimatizing your puppy to skateboards is another strategy for changing his reaction. Once your puppy learns that the skateboard is not a threatening object, his need to bark at them will decrease. You can also teach your puppy to bark on command for treats. This will be used for stopping him from barking at other triggers as well, if this becomes a problem, and works by teaching your puppy that if he barks when not asked to, he does not get rewarded.
Treats and a cooperative friend with a skateboard are required to teach your puppy to acclimatize, or to positively reinforce skateboarders. Precise timing is also helpful as you will want to capture behavior, or sometimes anticipate it, in order to change it. This will require some time, patience and practice. Resist the impulse to punish barking in your puppy as this usually just elevates mood and excitement, and contributes to barking rather than stopping it.
The Desensitize Method
Determine distance of no reaction
Have a friend approach on a skateboard and determine the distance at which the skateboarder needs to be in order for your dog not to bark. As soon as your dog starts barking, have your friend stop and back up until your puppy stops barking.
Positively reinforce for no reaction
Once you have established the distance at which your puppy does not react, have your friend skate past you and your puppy at this distance. When your puppy ignores the skateboard, give him treats to reinforce ignoring the skateboard.
Repeat several times, and then have your friend skate by a little closer. If your puppy barks, have your friend move farther away again. If your puppy ignores the skateboard provide treats as soon as the border appears, and continue praising and treating until the skateboard is out of sight.
Continue moving closer and closer until your skateboarding friend can ride right beside your puppy, and your puppy is looking to you for a treat, rather than barking at your friend on the skateboard. Start including your skateboarding friend on walks with you so your puppy becomes used to walking with the skateboard.
Apply to new boarders
Go on walks with your puppy, and whenever you encounter a stranger on a skateboard, treat your puppy when they are at a distance as a reward for ignoring the skateboarder, so your puppy learns to ignore all skateboarders.
The Look At That Method
Set up a meeting
Capture the moment when your puppy notices a skateboard but has not started barking yet. You will need to observe your puppy closely, and have an assistant on a skateboard approach in a controlled environment, so you can predict when you and your puppy will encounter the skateboarder.
Capture the moment
When your puppy notices the skateboarder, use a clicker or noise maker to catch his attention, say “yes” and provide a treat. You need to capture the moment when your puppy is in the presence of a skateboarder but has not yet reacted.
Continue to practice with your assistant coming closer and closer, continuing to click and treat your puppy before he reacts by barking.
Remove if barking occurs
If you fail to capture the moment before your puppy starts barking, calmly leave and do not reinforce your puppy.
Increase time requirement
Start increasing the length of time your puppy needs to be calm and not bark around the skateboarder, click, then wait before providing a treat when your puppy sees the skateboard. Gradually remove the click and eventually the treat, praise your puppy for being quiet around the skateboarder.
The Barking on Command Method
Trigger your puppy to bark, with a trigger that is less intense than a skateboarder, and say “speak”. When your puppy starts barking, provide a treat. Repeat until established.
Start giving the “speak” command with no trigger present, and reward your puppy for barking. Practice.
After your puppy has barked in response to “speak”, provide the treat and say “quiet”.
Gradually start saying “Speak” and then “Quiet” before providing the treat. Do not reinforce or treat your puppy for barking when not commanded to.
Apply to skateboarders
Now start using the “quiet”, command around skateboarders. Continue to treat your puppy for responding to the 'quiet' command around a skateboarder until well established.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 04/20/2018, edited: 01/08/2021