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 🙂


Come to the Rescue of a Rescue

I had a GREAT experience recently!

I met with/helped a woman (I’ll call her Rachel) who’d rescued a 1 yr. old male Newfoundland. The reason she called me, her dog “Spot” wouldn’t stop jumping on her and biting on the leash, so there was NO Loose Leash Walking! The dog “Spot” weighs over 120 lbs. (more than I do). So I was a tad concerned before I got there.

Fortunately Rachel has a fenced yard. When I arrived at the house Spot was outside, looking in — an adorable face! I said we should go out so that I could meet him. Rachel went first and put him on leash (I was watching the interaction). When I first met Spot he very happily jumped up on me 😦 I was mud from head to toe. So the first thing we worked on was developing our Marker (see Positive Reinforcement Training and using a Marker). Once Spot was in tune with (and happy about) the concept of a marker I asked Rachel if she had a VERY sturdy object she could tether Spot to i.e. like a tree, she came back having attached a leash to Spot’s cemented in the ground outside pen — perfect.

To start working on “no jump” I asked Rachel to bring Spot over to the tether and tether him (with a treat of course). As Spot was sitting there bewildered I explained to Rachel that I would approach Spot, but as soon as he would get up or move forward, I would retreat. Until as I approached he held his position — ideally offering a sit, but at the very least, no pressure on the leash. (This is where the marker is so important. It allows you to communicate with the dog “I like that”.)

It took about 3 approaches before Spot didn’t budge, at which point I said an enthusiastic “yes” and gave him a treat. Spot caught on fast and was sitting like it was a life long choice! He is very food motivated!

Next step, Loose Leash Walking (LLW). As soon as Rachel attached the leash for walking and unattached the tether (2 separate leashes) Spot started jumping & tugging on the leash. I said please put him back on the tether (leaving the walking leash attached). The look on Spot’s face when he was reattached to the tether was priceless! He sat bewildered that he was reattached to the pen. When Rachel went back to get him, to try LLW again Spot started to jump, so I told her to back out of his space. Again he was bewildered and sat. I told Rachel to say an enthusiastic “Yes” and toss him a treat. The next time she approached him he held his sit while she untethered him and took hold of the walking leash. It took several tries (each time returning Spot to the tether) before Spot stopped mouthing the leash but within 15 minutes Rachel was walking small circles in the area adjacent to the outdoor pen. Rachel was all smiles — she’d never had such success! The key here is remaining close enough to the tether so that you can immediately reattach the dog if he starts the mouthing or jumping again. You gradually expand your circle and distance from the tether over a series of days, making sure that your dog can be successful — not pushing him too far too fast.

I have to give Rachel a whole lot of credit for her willingness to address Spots issues. She said her fear was that if she gave up on him perhaps a person in Spot’s next home might be mean to him, because of his size and unmannerly behavior. Rachel is truly a responsible dog owner! 🙂