Cats might be the ones with a reputation for being scaredy, but dogs can be total cowards too. Fear: it's an equal-opportunity affliction.
What sets dogs apart in the fear game is just how weird and inexplicable their fears can be. Here, we try to explain one of those seemingly-inexplicable fears: the skateboard. Why do some dogs hate skateboards so much? Let's investigate.
What is it about skateboards that drives dogs crazy?
Does your dog go nuts when someone breezes by on a skateboard? Does he bark like mad? Lunge at the person? Try to run after them? That's because the quick movement of people on skateboards (and bikes and rollerblades and other quick-moving sidewalk-based means of transportation) can trigger your dog's chase response.
Your dog's chase response can be dangerous—both for your dog and for the unsuspecting skateboarder. The response, a part of the dog's predatory chase drive, which is held over from his wolf-ly ancestry. In the wild, the chase drive is a trigger to help dogs (and wolves, of course) identify and catch prey, which is vital to their survival. In domesticated pups, it's mostly a form of play—like when your dog chases a ball that you've thrown for him.
Unfortunately, your dog's instincts can't differentiate between "hey, that's something I need to catch and eat so I can survive" and "hey, that's an innocent human on a skateboard that I should definitely just leave alone." In addition to fulfilling a primal need, chasing is just fun for dogs. It lights up the pleasure centers in their brains and isn't a habit they have an incentive to break. Some breeds are especially prone to chasing, particularly those that have been bred for working, hunting, and herding.
Why do skateboards scare some dogs?
Some dogs don't want to chase skateboards, though. Some dogs are terrified of them. Why? It might come down to the sound. The loud noise that accompanies a skateboard can alarm your dog and trigger his fight or flight response. While some dogs will fight, others definitively choose flight. Of course, if the dog is attached to a leash that's attached to your hand, well, you might be dragged along for the flight too.
Do dogs hate other things with wheels?
It's not the wheels that dogs hate, per se, but dogs who get agitated by skateboards are likely to get agitated by anything wheeled, moving thing. It all has to do with the predatory chase drive discussed above.
What other sounds and things do dogs commonly hate?
- Car alarms
- Slamming doors
- Plastic bags being shaken out
What do these sounds have in common? They're loud, they're unexpected, and they don't occur in nature. This is a perfect storm of "WTF IS HAPPENING" that really rattles some dogs to their core. The loud whirring of skateboard wheels on concrete fits in here.
Other random things that some dogs hate include:
Some of these can be explained by the same predatory chase response that explains why dogs lunge at skateboards (bicycles, for example, definitely trigger the same response). Others, like hats and jackets, can throw dogs off by changing the general shape of a human (this is part of why dogs commonly bark at mailmen, actually). And others still, like balloons and bubbles, might just freak your dog out because they're nothing like anything they were exposed to in the pivotal socialization phase of their lives. The takeaway: There isn't necessarily an overarching rule about what makes a dog hate something. Fun, right?
How can you train your dog out of barking at skateboarders?
If you have a dog who barks like crazy (or worse, lunges at) passing skateboards, it's a good idea to invest in a clicker and a fanny pack to fill with treats for walks. When you see a skateboard coming, encourage your dog to look away ("leave it" or "look at me" can be helpful here) and click and reward when the dog's attention is anywhere but on the skateboard.
Some experts also recommend bringing high value treats (like cheese or chicken) on walks to reward a dog with when they're calm around a skateboard. This can be especially helpful for dogs who display more fear than aggression around skateboards.
Why do some dogs love skateboards?
Some dogs aren't afraid of or weirded out by skateboards at all. In fact, some dogs actually like to skateboard themselves. This is especially common among short, stocky breeds like bulldogs, who have a low center of gravity that makes them built to 'board. Lazy dogs who tire quickly will also tend to take to skateboarding because, well, it's easier than walking.