Posted 4d ago
Image: Getty Images
By Jenny White
A week ago, an old, squeaky, livid green skateboard was salvaged from my father-in-law’s garage and came to live with us, much to the dismay of Kuba, my fox red lab.
The thing is, Kuba is utterly terrified of skateboards. It’s impossible to think of anything else that sparks the same crazed, panicked level of fear in him.
The mere sight or sound of a skateboarder in the park is enough to make Kuba run full pelt in the opposite direction and hide – and if he’s on the lead he will pull so hard to get away that his collar (already as tight as I can comfortably make it) threatens to slip over his head.
This worries me immensely. What if he runs off and gets lost? What if he slips the lead and runs into the path of a car?
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Aside from these imagined disasters, there’s also the fact that Kuba is suffering because of his phobia. He now pretty much refuses to go through one local park because he’s encountered so many skateboarders there, and if I do make him walk through it, he starts panting and pulling us off the path, and you can see the whites in his wide, frightened eyes.
Kuba has not always been like this.
I can pinpoint the exact incident that sparked his phobia. We were walking up a narrow path into his favourite park and saw three young boys at the top of the path holding skateboards. Instead of waiting for us to pass, each boy sat on his skateboard and zoomed past us, making a rolling clatter as they passed. Kuba was utterly spooked; he tried to buck and pull away, nearly coming off the lead, but because the path was narrow, there was no way he could get away from them. Since then, skateboards have been his enemy.
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Knowing how it happened doesn’t do anything to solve the problem, however. My first efforts involved trying to get him to stay put and take treats whenever a skateboard passed, but the terror of the skateboard won every time. That was how I came up with my current plan: bring a skateboard home.
When I first brought it into the house, Kuba would not be in the same room as it. He cowered in the hall or the landing. Over the hours that followed, we managed to coax him into the room with treats (being a lab he’s hugely motivated by food). However, he still wouldn’t go near the skateboard, even with the most alluring treats placed on it.
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Next I took the skateboard into our room when we went to bed. Kuba loves to sleep under our bed, and after a bit of time spent lurking on the landing he decided to enter the room, giving the skateboard a wide berth.
The next day we had a breakthrough: my chihuahua, Carlos, started taking treats from the skateboard and this encouraged Kuba to creep closer – then came the magic moment when he snaffled his first treat from his wheeled nemesis.
Now we’re working on placing treats on the skateboard and rolling it towards him. After that we’ll move onto taking treats from a person on a skateboard (I fully expect to fall off).
I’m also going to keep offering him treats whenever we see a skateboard in the park. We still have a way to go, but it’s extraordinary to watch how quickly a dog’s responses can change with a bit of conditioning.
Now if only I could train him to stop raiding people’s picnics…
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