My dog is terrified of skateboards. How can I desensitize her so she isn’t so fearful?

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Systematic desensitization, used to treat phobias, is a behavioral therapy technique used for individuals and pets suffering from anxiety that is provoked when exposed to a certain stimulus.

• Your dog should be calm, relaxed and know the basic obedience commands, especially “sit.”The best place is someplace, other than your home, where it’s quiet and there are few distractions; the reason you don’t want to do it in your home is because dogs are territorial and the dog can easily get sidetracked.
• Leash your dog, with a secure, but not choking, collar. Be prepared that there may be escape behaviors displayed but there also may be fear aggression. If it is severe, do not try this without a professional behavioral therapist.

• Keep your dog focused on you, by holding a treat close to your chest and say “focus.” Gradually bring the stimulus that elicits the fear response into the area, without bringing the stimulus close to the dog; this will only increase the fear and elicit a fight or flight response.

• Gradually increase the stimulus and when it has reached the threshold, use basic obedience commands to focus the dog’s attention. Grant treats only when the dog is not shaking, tensed, or trying to escape. End that session by removing the fear-eliciting stimulus and now take the dog for a walk or a car ride to remove the tension further. Be sure to remove the stimulus only when the dog is not eliciting a fear response.

• Try the above scenario again the next day, but this time bring the fear eliciting stimulus a few feet closer. Each day, gradually bring the fear-eliciting stimulus even closer, but don’t rush this. Systematic desensitization takes time. If the dog is rushed it will only worsen.

• Now after several trials of this your dog should be able to at least walk by the stimulus without eliciting the fear response. Try the desensitization in different environments, so that the dog can begin to see that in many different places the fearful stimulus may exist and it will not hurt her.

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