How to teach your dog to skateboard

Why skateboard? Learning a new trick is fun for both you and your dog and it builds your bond. Plus, skateboarding teaches balance and confidence, and whose dog couldn’t use more of that?

Skateboarding is also a great training example of splitting behaviors and then linking them all together. Think of splitting like all ingredients in a recipe. Chaining then is like combining the ingredients sequentially to create a finished result of skill that can not only be repeated, but is something your dog chooses to repeat freely because it is fun for her to do so.

Step 1: Get Comfortable

Step 1: Let your dog explore the skateboard freely. It helps to put treats around it to make it more attractive. Note that the wheels on this 10-x30-inch skateboard have trainers to keep the wheels from moving. © Melissa Kauffman

First, let your dog explore freely and see how she feels about being around a skateboard as an object in her environment. The fastest way for a dog to form associations with or learn something is slow. Start by skateboarding in an area with your dog. The skateboard does not have to move and you do not have to turn the wheels. Just let your dog gather information about this new device and approach it freely on its own – sniff it, walk around it and inspect it.

Step 2: Don’t let skateboard move

An important element for success is making sure the skateboard doesn’t move in the beginning. Tighten the wheels so that they cannot move freely and also tighten the trucks so that the skateboard does not move back and forth. You can also buy skateboard trainers to put on each wheel to prevent movement ($25.95. SkaterTrainer 2.0†

We only introduce movement when the dog gets good at skateboarding and stays comfortable on the skateboard. This could take days or it could take hours. It is up to the individual dog and how comfortable she is in the process of learning this new new skill.

In all my decades of helping people and dogs learn to skateboard, none of them have ever started learning how to make this move. Each last person learned how to stand on the board when it wasn’t moving first and to become familiar with doing this all-important first step before moving on to the next step.

Step 3: Get started

Step 3: Encourage your dog to stand on the stationary skateboard with treats. Do this on carpet or in the grass so that the skateboard doesn’t move and your dog doesn’t slip on the floor. © Melissa Kauffman

Then encourage your dog to get on the skateboard. If your dog has had previous platform training, this learning process will become even easier for her as it would be a generalization of previously reinforced behavior in a similar situation. The idea is to get your dog used to the muscle memory it takes to step on something.

Prepare your dog for success. If you have carpeting, start in this area so the board will move even less quickly.

If you don’t have carpeting and you have grass, you can do that outside too. Don’t start on the curb as that will come later after your dog is sure to get on the skateboard and stay on it.

The body mechanics of this start with you in front of the board and your dog behind the board. Hold something your dog likes in your hand to lure her onto the plate from the back as you stand in front of it. Slowly lead your pup toward the skateboard until she steps on it. Once she steps on the board, mark and empower her to step on it.

To go to an object with my dogs, I use the “Charge” verbal cue. This is a verbal cue to request them to get up and move on with what’s ahead. This is also how I request my dogs to load into my vehicle, or a stump, bench, or anything in our area that would be nice to stand on. If you use a clicker, you can also click for her cue.

Stay in this phase for as long as necessary before your dog can stand comfortably on the skateboard for an extended period of time, with self-confidence. For some dogs, this can be a short period of time, as they take on this activity more naturally than another dog would. If we pressure them to get on the skateboard while introducing movement too quickly, the individual dog may never feel comfortable on the skateboard, so we tighten up the wheels and the trucks.

Step 4: Prepare for exercise

Once your dog is comfortable on the skateboard, continue moving. At this stage, loosen the wheels a little so that they move slowly. It’s still a good idea to keep the trucks tight for part of this learning phase. This is also the time to move from the stable carpet environment to decking or a backyard patio.

Step 5: Forward Movement

Take your time: Stay at the skateboarding stage as long as it takes your dog to feel comfortable on the skateboard for an extended period of time. © Melissa Kauffman

You want to do your best to control the movement of the skateboard. A good way is to attach a belt or rope to the front truck. Slowly pull the dog (standing on the skateboard) and the skateboard toward you while strengthening her to maintain forward motion on the skateboard.

This is an important stage: have fun here and strengthen your dog a lot to stay on the board as he moves.

This involves moving the board forward a bit while the dog is on the skateboard so that you can build up this behavior.

Step 6: left to right movement

Spend some time at this stage getting your dog used to balancing on this now less stable platform. With your hand or foot on the board while your dog is sitting on it, slowly rock the board back and forth, introducing this new aspect of movement to your dog and helping her expand her balancing skills.

People turn a skateboard by shifting their balance on their heels or on their toes. Dogs move a skateboard back and forth by adjusting their weight to the right or leaning to the left. Again, spend as much time here as your dog needs to feel comfortable in this step.

Step 7: Self-propelled

The next step is to guide and encourage your dog to move the board with her hind legs only. With her front paws on the board and her back paws on the floor, move the board forward and help your dog create an “aha” moment to realize she can now move the board on her own.

Lure her forward with something that motivates her, such as a piece of her favorite food or a favorite toy. You want to be far enough away to motivate her to use the skateboard by pushing it toward you, but not far enough away where she decides to run towards you to grab the amp without the skateboard. At this stage, adapt and be flexible with the distance from your dog, increasing it slowly as she develops her ability to move the board on her own.

Expand the environment

©iagodina | Getty Images

Now that your dog is developing skills that will help her stay on the board, move her to an environment where she can safely skateboard alone. Your dog must be off leash as it is extremely inconvenient to have a dog on a skateboard while holding a leash on a harness. If you influence the dog in any way with any pressure on the leash, it will unbalance her and the leash can get caught in the wheels.

Your dog also needs a safe environment to further develop her skills. If you have a patio in a fenced backyard or if your driveway is fenced, these are managed environments that are safe. You can also try a local tennis court or a fenced outdoor paved area.

Take the time it takes

Nothing is more important than spending as much time as it takes with each step to learn how to skateboard – move as fast as the slowest student. There is no mistake in shaping new behaviors, there are only behaviors that we reinforce, and then there are other behaviors.

This way of thinking allows for a lot of flexibility for the individual student. If this is all done gradually to suit your individual dog, in the future just picking up the skateboard will be all the information your dog needs to know exactly what’s going to happen – skateboarding fun.

Is Skateboarding Right For Your Dog?

©lisegagne | Getty Images

Before teaching your dog to skateboard, consider whether she is physically capable of performing this activity. I’m not one to discourage the individual – I’ve seen dogs that don’t allow boundaries, hold them back. However, some breeds are too big or too small for skateboarding. A 10-by-30-inch skateboard is a good platform size for most dogs.

If this is too small or too big for your dog, adjust her physical capabilities with a bigger board or just teach her to have fun on a skateboard, which is really just another platform. Platforms are a raised solid surface on which an animal stands in order to get up and perform other behaviors. Humans have been using platforms to train animals for centuries. Many things can be used as a platform, and a skateboard is just a platform that eventually moves.

See the Dogster article “The Rise of Platforms” for more information on platform training.

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