Impulse Control

Also known as self-control, impulse control is a key element in training a puppy or dog to have basic manners.

Almost every dog has some issue with self-control. Your dog may jump, barge through doorways, or try to get food off the counter (or right out of your hand) — it’s natural, however, at best these behaviors can be a nuisance and at worst dangerous if they are allowed to continue.

Remember first and foremost — dogs do what works for them — and if something (a behavior) works for them it means the behavior is reinforcing and reinforced behaviors get stronger!

I was encouraged to write a blog on this subject because over the past week I have had two first-hand experiences with young dogs that lacked impulse control.

Situation number one — My dog Casey and I were just leaving the dog club with a friend and her dog when someone arrived in a car for an upcoming class. At first glance my gut instinct said, “TROUBLE”. I turned to my friend and said I’m going to get my dog into the car NOW. As I was unlocking my car door I saw the rear window go down of the car that had just pulled in (the car was still moving). The dog jumped out of the window onto the driveway! Fortunately the dog went over to my friend’s dog (the nicest little dog you’d ever want to meet) and my friend grabbed the escapee by the collar. The owner quickly parked the car and came to claim his large adolescent canine. Apparently the dog pushed the window control and then leaped out of the car.

Why did I sense trouble when I first saw the dog in the car? I saw his body language — he was very aroused.

Situation number two — It can often be hectic at the dog club when classes change over (one class exiting while another arrives). In order to help manage traffic I often hold the door for those leaving while suggesting placement for those who are arriving. As I was holding the door a Golden Retriever mix was preparing to exit. Looking at the dog’s demeanor, I asked the handler “Are you okay?” She said, “Yes, we’re fine.” Why did I ask? I saw the same expression on this dog’s face as I’d seen on the dog described above.

As the handler & dog walked across the threshold to exit the dog lunged at another dog that was approaching from the parking lot. The handler was pulled to the ground. I quickly ran to grab the dog’s leash and help the handler back to her feet. The handler was not hurt and her dog did not get away from her, but as you can imagine things could have quickly gotten worse.

It’s important to teach your dog that they have choices and that a choice of calm behavior can be VERY rewarding. In my upcoming blogs I will address teaching behaviors that help build a dog’s self-control. I will review:

  • Watch
  • Wait at the doorway
  • Leave it
  • No jump
  • Sit for supper
  • Penalty yards

I hope you will find these helpful 🙂

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