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 14

TEST 14: SAY HELLO (This is not part of the Canine Good Citizen Test)

The TDI Certified Evaluator will test the willingness of each dog to visit a person and that the dog can be made readily accessible for petting (i.e., small dogs can be placed on a person’s lap or can be held; medium and larger dogs can sit on a chair or stand close to the patient to be easily reached.)

For a lot of dogs the biggest challenge is remaining calm when in such close proximity to new people. When practicing, if as you approach a new person, seated in a chair or lying in a bed, your dog starts getting excited for the greeting, immediately use your penalty yards (move backwards a good 10 to 15 feet and get your dog’s attention again, repeat as needed). Your dog’s excitement causes him to lose yardage toward the object of his attentions! This is an extremely effective technique for developing some self-control.

Once your dog has arrived at his destination remember that you can keep talking to him to encourage him to hold his sit and remain calm. If you have a small dog and your dog will be placed on a bed, work on a solid “down” stay in that type of setting. Your dog will not need to keep a down stay during the test, but having this as a default exercise will help your dog realize he has another option rather than excitement.

If your dog will be asked to get up on a chair for petting, make sure you practice this as many dogs aren’t used to getting up onto anything except sofas and comfy chairs. A straight backed chair may present a new set of challenges depending on the footing your dog has to jump from as well as his balance on the chair.

Good luck 🙂


Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 8


The test entails: “This test demonstrates that the dog can behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 10 yards, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, and continue on for about 5 yards. The dogs should show no more than a casual interest in each other.”

Well I have an interesting story to tell about this exercise! Recently (just this week) I was teaching a class (6 dogs & handlers) and a number of the dogs had reactivity issues i.e. highly aroused in the company of new dogs. And one dog in particular was so reactive/distracted that he was often somewhat partitioned off from the rest of the class with some ring gating. So, how would I introduce this exercise???

At the club we have several not quite life size, but close, stuffed animals. I decided to bring out the Old English Sheepdog (OES) as my companion “test” dog. To give you the full picture let me describe the OES — his head is slightly  turned to the left, so I made sure his eyes were averted away from the approaching real dog, as eye contact can be seen as a challenge. He also has a slightly forward posture which could be construed as an offensive position, otherwise he has a largely white head, gray ears, and gray with white body & bobbed tail. He only stands about 18 inches tall, and remember he’s STUFFED. Well, the uproar created when I put him on the floor was truly chaotic! Three of the dogs, with some minor difficulty, were able to walk by us (one of the 3 success stories was the dog from behind the partition!). The remaining three each received multiple tries with no success. As a last resort I placed a cone at the mid point between us and one at a time asked the handlers to walk their dogs up to the cone, ask for a sit. Once successful I allowed them to release their dogs to come see the OES. Needless to say they were each very inquisitive.

I haven’t determined exactly how I’ll approach the subject next week, but we’ll see.

Let me describe how I usually start training this exercise with non-reactive dogs:

I set up 4 cones (A,B,C,D) creating a rectangle approximately 15 feet wide by 30 feet long. I then place a 5th cone (X) in the middle of the rectangle, see below. I set one handler & dog on the outer side of cone A, heading toward B, and the other handler & dog on the outer side of cone D, heading toward C.

A                                  B
C                                  D

The handlers are to walk in a straight line from A to B or D to C, only stopping on that straight line at approximately the middle, indicated by X. They DO NOT come to the middle. If their dog starts to pull as they start walking forward (the other dog is also moving) I ask them to use penalty yards (dog loses forward progress) until they can get their dog’s attention back. When they stop in the middle of their straight line I ask them to cue their dog to sit and stay. While keeping a peripheral eye on their dog the handlers are to say hi to their neighbor. If their dog makes any movement to get up, they must immediately ask for the sit again. Once the “hi” has been completed I ask them to continue on to the next cone.

Only as the teams become successful do I decrease the distance between cones A&C and B&D. The decrease is done very gradually over time. Only when the dogs can do this exercise successfully with their owners within two feet do I ask the handlers to shake hands.

In the TDI test there will be a center line (leash, chalk mark or whatever) the Handler with the testing dog will be on one side and the greeter dog on the other. Neither dog should cross that line. If the testing dog crosses the line it will fail the test.

I hope this was helpful 🙂