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Teach Your Dog to Skateboard

Trainer Talk

Teach Your Dog to Skateboard

If you’re seeking a fun new activity for you and your dog as summer rolls around, give a skateboard a whirl.

Talented dogs such as Tillman the Skateboarding Dog seem born with the ability -- see Tillman in action below:

Agile dogs and those with a lower center of gravity excel, but any dog physically capable of the task can learn.

Get Your Dog Used to the Clicker
Skateboarding is a good opportunity to try clicker training, even if you haven’t done it before.

With clicker training, we break behaviors down into small pieces and train just one piece at a time. The click marks the moment your dog succeeds. Follow each click with something that reinforces your dog (food is usually the fastest and easiest option). For treats, use whatever your dog likes. Small, soft treats are best because your dog can eat them quickly.

The sound of the click is a salient marker that tells your dog, “Yes, what you just did earns reinforcement.” Your dog will make the connection very quickly.

Create a Training Plan
Think about how to break the behavior down into steps. You might begin by helping your dog to put one of his front paws on the board, then two front paws. Then position him along the board lengthwise. Since a skateboard is so narrow, I started out by having my dog, Jessie, practice with a long, rectangular box top. This made it easier for her, since the box top was wider than the skateboard and very stable on the floor.

The First Step to Teach Your Dog to Skateboard

Initially, click and treat for any paw touches on the box top. When your dog is reliably placing one paw on the box top at least 10 times in a minute, you’re ready to move to the next step in your training plan: two paws. Practice clicking and treating when he puts two paws on the box top, and follow the progression until your dog successfully puts all paws on the board.

If you’re just starting out with this kind of training, plan on several sessions at each level. Keep each training session pretty short -- just a few minutes.

In all of your dog’s skateboard training sessions, ignore errors. If your dog is not doing a behavior, realize that he does not yet understand what you want. Just go back to the previous step where he was successful, and practice some more. 

You can always tell when it’s time to move to the next step by your rate of reinforcement. A rule of thumb: you’re clicking and treating 10 to 15 times a minute. This tells you that your dog understands the behavior. 

Introduce the Skateboard to Your Dog

Make sure the skateboard you use is big enough so your dog can stand with all four paws on top without touching the board’s tail.

When you first introduce the skateboard, you need to stabilize it so it doesn’t roll. If the skateboard unexpectedly starts rolling and your dog isn’t prepared, that could be scary -- sort of like learning to snow ski when the skis are already moving. I wedged Kongs on each end; they work well because they’re rubber and solid.

When you first begin training on the skateboard, don’t assume that because the board is the same shape as the box top your dog will know what to do right away. Go back to the first steps in your training plan. Continue to practice with the skateboard stabilized until your rate of reinforcement tells you that your dog understands the behavior.

Let it Roll!

When your dog is very comfortable with his paws on the board and positioning himself beside the board, you can begin to practice with the skateboard on carpet. You want your dog to feel comfortable with slow movement of the board before moving to a smooth surface, where the board will roll faster.

When you reach a point where you can let the skateboard roll freely on a smooth surface, your dog will find his “ride.” Some dogs begin to push with their rear legs while keeping their front paws on the board. Others push off and bring all four paws up.

What your dog does with it is all about his choice. It’s all about the fun!

Exceptional Canine expert Tia Guest is the program director for Karen Pryor Academy, a division of Karen Pryor Clicker Training. She is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), an Associate Dog Behavior Consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, and a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. Guest is a graduate of the Exotic Animal Training & Management Program at Moorpark College in California, where she clicker trained animals ranging from rats to big cats.
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