This week I was contacted by a woman who wanted to spend more quality time with her newly adopted dog, but she would have to be able to walk the dog alongside her motorized wheelchair. On my way home the same day, I watched a man struggling to keep his young Golden Retriever jogging alongside his bicycle—it ended, luckily, without the dog pulling the poor guy into traffic.
Moving safely and happily alongside our transport devices, whether that is a manual machine or electric, takes a bit of training for the dog and a lot of common sense from the human.
If you have a fearful dog, this may be an instance where you should enlist a private trainer or possibly think of another way to exercise your four-legged friend. However, if you have a patient and willing helper to work with you and your dog, here are some tips:
- Start introducing the dog to the apparatus at home, just having it out, not moving around, and pair it with extra special treats. Classical conditioning: the skateboard (or baby stroller, bike, wheelchair, etc) predicts delicious things.
- Never push the dog beyond her comfort level. If she shows any signs of fear, create distance and start rewarding her closer to the gadget as slowly as needed. This step can be frustrating if the dog is timid, but remember that it takes as long as it takes. Don’t rush this step.
- Once she is super comfortable with the object (this means she actually enjoys having it around!) start moving it without the dog attached to you or the device. Take this step very slowly until the dog is absolutely fine with the sound and movement. Always allow her to vote with her feet: if she wants to move away from the machine until she is comfortable, let her.
- Next, take it outside with an assistant to hold the dog on the leash as you roll along beside them, at a distance where the dog is happy.
- If the dog needs better leash manners, this is where a trainer or experienced assistant might be helpful. Training a solid “Watch” so the dog gives you attention when you ask for it is essential, as well as keeping a loose leash. There are training resources on our website to teach these.
- Once the dog is walking along nicely between you and your helper, you can reach out and take the leash for a few seconds. Pass it back and forth for a few sessions, until you are comfortable on your own.
- It is absolutely critical that you are aware of when your dog gets tired, needs a water break, or the pavement is too rough or hot for a dog’s paw pads. Consult your veterinarian before starting any rigorous exercise routine for your dog, and always keep your dog leashed for safety.
Have fun and happy training!