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 🙂


Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 11

TEST 11: LEAVE-IT (this is NOT part of the Canine Good Citizen test)

The handler with the dog on a loose leash walks over food on the ground and, upon command, the dog should ignore the food.

This is perhaps the hardest part of the TDI test for many dogs. Depending on the evaluator you may have to pass by food on the ground, walk over it, or as I’ve seen frequently have your dog “leave it” as the evaluator drops food in front of him while he’s walking. In most cases it is NOT sufficient for the dog to just give you full attention while walking, aka no acknowledgement that the food is even there. The evaluator wants to see that the dog’s seen the food and chosen not to go for it!

Phase 1 — Teach Doggie Zen — learn to give something up to get something
Hold a treat in your left hand, hand closed place your closed fist on the floor (your dog will likely paw & lick at your hand, don’t give in!). As soon as your dog takes his attention off your hand (looks away, looks at you, whatever) use your marker and give a treat from your right hand.  You may need to keep your right hand behind your back.

Phase 2 — Leave It — Begin to add the CUE “LEAVE IT”
• Place the treat or object on the floor, say LEAVE IT.
• If your dog goes for the treat or object quickly step in front of it using a “body block” to prevent your dog from getting the “item” (many a treat has ended up on the bottom of my shoe!)
• Use your marker and treat your dog from your hand when your dog backs up or looks at you. Do not let your dog eat the treat off the floor.
• To master LEAVE IT you will need to practice this stage with many different items and in many different locations.

Here is an excellent link on how to teach a reliable leave it:

Good luck 🙂


Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 10

TEST 10: REACTION TO MEDICAL EQUIPMENT (this is NOT part of the Canine Good Citizen test)

The dog must be tested around medical equipment (such as wheelchairs, crutches, canes, walkers, or other devices which would ordinarily be found in a facility) to judge the dog’s reactions to common health care equipment.

For some dogs seeing medical equipment and/or people moving in a manner they are not accustomed to is no big deal. For others they may be afraid. So it’s definitely a good idea to expose your dog to as many things as possible before testing. Ideally look for a dog training facility around you that has access to a variety of medical equipment. If there isn’t such a place, you’ll have to be more ingenious, perhaps checking with a local retirement facility to see if they would let you and your dog come observe people’s comings and goings. Some institutions are very strict about TDI compliance, while others are not so much so. You will want to make sure your dog is very solid in all other aspects of the testing before you even make this kind of request.

If your dog shows any concern about the equipment make sure you have lots of tasty treats and start feeding your dog as soon as he sees the equipment. You’ll approach this the same way as I suggested introducing the vacuum cleaner in Test 9 — desensitization and counter conditioning. As you proceed, if you can actually get the person using the equipment to toss your dog a treat all the better!

One thing to watch out for — many a dog has fallen in love with the tennis balls that may be attached to the bottom of a walker! If you have a tennis ball crazy dog you will need to train an excellent “leave it”. That training will be covered in our next session.

Good luck 🙂