Do You Have a Monster Dog On Your Hands?
Are you at your wits end feeling like you have the makings of a Monster Dog on your hands? And no, I am not referring to Alice Cooper’s deranged 1984 horror film MONSTER DOG and the correlating music videos! The film stars Alice Cooper as a (surprise!) rocker named Vince Raven who has the misfortune of crossing paths with a massive, vicious, snarling werewolf and its many smaller, demonic mutt minions that interfere with all attempts to film his latest music video.
Cooper pelts the tracks “See Me in the Mirror” and “Identity Crisis” but these songs and music videos contribute nothing to making MONSTER DOG watchable. With its terrible special effects, poor acting and lame attempts at MTV-esque themes, the horror film is more than awful. Which of course means the fans loved it – 81% in fact, according to IMDB.
Though it might feel like you have a demonic green monster dog right out of a horror movie on your hands, I can assure you, with the right training, your Monster Dog can turn into an Angel Dog. All joking aside, having an out of control dog is a real problem and it needs to be addressed before things get serious.
The first time I saw this video, I thought it was a set up. Then I realized that it wasn’t, and I think I was even more horrified. I mean we have all seen dogs steal food, or get in the trash, or counter surf. But, most of us don’t have dogs that are so brazen, they will literally steal the food out of our mouths.
We Have Lost a Crucial Element in our Dog Training… Impulse Control!
This monster dog has zero impulse control. Some people are too embarrassed to even take their dog in public. Some people can’t even have friends or family over to their house, because of their monster dog’s behavior… It seems so extreme!
Imagine for a Moment
Imagine you are hungry. It feels like you are starving, so you wander into a buffet and begin bobbing your head in and out of people’s plates, eating everything you desire. If you don’t want what is close to what you are eating, you shove the plate away, and move on to the next person or the next plate.
What a life, right?
I’d give you about 5 seconds before someone in the buffet punches you in the face and the police are called. I mean, you can go into the buffet ready for a fight, fists clenched, and perhaps a weapon on your person. But eventually, someone who is bigger than you, armed with more firepower, is going to stop your rampage.
When you think about it, I am describing a “feral” human. What keeps us from being “feral”, is learning rules for civilization.
When You Were a Toddler
When you were a toddler, you were probably a slightly cuter version of the above scenario. You saw something, you wanted it… you tried to take it, but one or both of your parents probably stepped in and smacked your hand. They didn’t hit you hard, they just basically hurt your feelings and let you know that “NO!”, in no uncertain terms, your sisters hot dog wasn’t yours.
You probably tried to take things a few more times before you learned the lesson and some self-control. This is what we are missing in dog training these days. It seems we have forgotten to teach our puppies some basic control of their impulses, or self-control.
We, in essence, have terminally “feral” puppies that never grow up!
We are living with serial food snatchers.
And, there are no repercussions for it.
We are living with serial jumpers.
And, there are no repercussions for it.
We are living with serial biters and mouthers.
And, there are no repercussions for it.
So, What is Impulse Control?
We have lost the desire to, or the knowledge of how to, train the simple things…MANNERS! As I’ve said earlier, dogs, just like people, aren’t born with impulse control! Impulse control is a skill that we develop over time, with practice. Right? It’s parenting… and practice.
Lots of kids grow up into adults with NO impulse control. Mainly because they weren’t parented by moms and dads who supported them in developing this skill. And lots of dogs have this problem too. In large part, because the entire dog training industry tells you to obedience train your dog first.
With commands like sit, stay, and down. But that doesn’t make sense at all, right?
You can’t expect a dog that’s too excited, to sit calmly. And you’ve probably tried. But think about all the times guests have come over and your dog was too excited to sit.
And even if he does sit, it’s probably just for a minute before he’s up again, all excited. Why doesn’t this work? Because you can’t teach sit first.
You need to teach calm first.
And let’s talk about come. How are you supposed to teach a dog that’s never learned for focus on you and ignore all other exciting stuff in his world, to come reliably at the local park?
Again, you have to teach a dog to focus on you, control his impulses to check out every exciting distraction, and then you can teach the dog to come.
What Scientists Have Discovered...
Scientists have been studying impulse control in humans and animals for decades now. And their findings are fascinating. Without boring you with the mountain of medical terminology I picked up along the way, I can tell you that in a dog’s brain, it’s the left frontal cortex that controls your dog’s impulses.
It works a lot like the human brain, where our prefrontal cortex does a very similar job. And this matters because while canine neuroscience is still pretty new, science has proven the theory: Our LIFE EXPERIENCES play an absolutely critical role in our brain development, building pathways between different parts of the brain.
Simply put: Without parents guiding us through life experiences that give us regular opportunities to PRACTICE self-control as children, humans don’t develop impulse control. And the same holds true for dogs. Without the right experiences, and the right opportunities to practice impulse control, your dog’s brain stays immature and that immature dog becomes a monster dog.
He still has “puppy brain.” Which means he doesn’t have the neural pathways and connections he needs to control his excitement and listen to you. But fortunately, there are ways to fix this.
And you do this by giving your dog the right experiences. I’m talking about controlled opportunities for your dog to learn and practice self-control, patience, and focus.
Just yesterday, I was hard at work at the veterinary clinic, preparing furry clients to meet the doctor and getting their histories. (I love veterinary medicine, I just can’t stay away!) A five year old, 82 pound dog with a gigantic prong collar around his neck, but absolutely no impulse control, came into the clinic. Thankfully, he was mostly sweet.
But, when he didn’t want to do something, he would grab your hand with his very large, open mouth. Or, he would jump on you and hurl you a foot or two away. It was nearly impossible to convince him to be still long enough to look in his eyes, ears and mouth, much less palpate his joints.
We don’t want to body slam dogs at the vet hospital! I would have figured he was a puppy; after all, who could live with a dog like that for over 5 years?
The owner was completely oblivious.
And, it wasn’t that he didn’t treat her that way, too!
He mouthed her and jumped on her just as hard, if not harder. It was like she was disembodied, or in a completely different room than my doctor and I were in that day.
He was a sweet boy, he had a lot of promise behaviorally, but he lacked even the simple ability to control any of his urges. I can’t imagine the things he steals at home, or the idea of walking him. He was a monster dog!
Impulse control would soothe the savage beast. She can’t even find anyone who wants to pet sit her dog in her home, because he is a furry monster dog!
Don’t Do It
Don’t do it! Don’t fall prey to letting your dog get away with being a monster.
Don’t let him steal food from your mouth.
Don’t let him pounce you or your family.
Don’t let him put his mouth on you!
Stop giving him everything, and start teaching him how to control his impulses.
Because, until he can control some of his basic impulses, he will be the monster dog that everyone avoids, instead of the great companion that you wanted when you picked him up and brought him home! It Doesn’t Require Punishment. It Doesn’t Even Require Months of Training. It will just require some consistency, a little bit of time (30 minutes a day), and some patience!
Dogs Can’t Learn Obedience if They Have No Impulse Control
It is pretty simple. Dogs really can’t learn any form of obedience if they don’t have the simple ability to control their own impulses. This is the basics of the basics.
And, interestingly, I have seen some German Shepherds who have learned to control their impulses while training but cannot leave food or toys alone to save their souls. It is like they compartmentalize training and only do it under certain circumstances. None of us wants a monster dog that can’t control himself in most situations!
So we must teach him impulse control in all places and in all things. In a previous article we spoke about impulse control as it relates to food and treats. Our dogs should not be allowed to steal food from the floor, the counter, and our hands.
And, they shouldn’t be allowed to dive head first into their food dish without being told. It is good manners to teach your dog to wait until he is told to eat! It also ensures that he is less likely to steal from children or others that he deems weaker than himself.
I say “less likely” because you actually have to train for this if you have children or others from whom he likes to steal! From food you can move to toys!
Toys are my dogs’ favorite things! All I have to do is touch their favorite toys and their eyes light up!
However, me handling their toy is not an excuse to be jumped on or mauled for said toy.
I don’t want my dog to think he can grow pogo sticks for legs the moment I touch his tennis ball (for reasons tennis balls may be dangerous for your dog click here) or tug toy.
I actually have to teach impulse control.
As with Food
As with food, I teach my dog if he gets snatchy, the toy will disappear. I will only play with him if he has good manners! Once he learns some basics, I can tell him to sit or lay down prior to my throwing his toy for him.
The mental stimulation required to do obedience while over stimulated by toy throwing is exhausting, and I like an exhausted dog! So, I try to use obedience as much as possible in order to get my dog stimulated and play with him! This also adds excitement and joy to my dog’s obedience, which gets us closer to a beautiful animated obedience routine when we compete!
After all, obedience should be as fun and game based as possible.
Taking it to the Next Level
After your dog has learned not to snatch his toys, to bring them back, and to listen to obedience before you throw or play with them; it is time to up the ante.
Have you ever seen a dog that could balance food or a toy on his face without putting it in his mouth?
Perhaps you have seen the dogs who are told to “stay” while their owner throws their favorite toy.
These are exemplary illustrations of excellent impulse control!
Make it difficult
Don’t feel guilty. I think, often, people feel sorry for these dogs who have learned the utmost forms of impulse control.
They think it is mean to teach the dog to balance the ball on his nose, or to hold a treat in his mouth without eating it.
I think that this is the most supreme source or impulse control and thinking.
Dogs like to think!
Dogs like to learn. They want to be stimulated. They want to be interacted with. They want to be played with! And the more you fulfill those needs, they less they need to do naughty things like snatch the things they want.
So Let Us Teach Them How to Control Their Impulses!
Dogs with impulse control make much better pets.
And, although obedience is a form of impulse control, it is also delegated by command or cue when true impulse control comes from the dog’s choice.
So let’s start small!
And, remember you aren’t going to use a command yet.
We want the dog to learn that if he controls his impulses, good things come.
Later we can use this to teach “Leave It” on cue or on command for more on that click here
What You’ll Need
-- High value treats: Cream cheese, hot dogs, chicken, liver or something else your dog really likes.
-- Low value treats: Dog food, dry dog biscuits, for instance something your dog likes but isn’t AS crazy about.
-- A treat pouch to put them in; I prefer a low cost hardware bag with 2 pouches that you can get for $1 at Lowes, Home Depot, or the craft section at Walmart.
-- A leash (for added control for a jumping dog)
-- A happy dog
First, I admit I cheat, and I use a low level treat to begin.
I want my dog to learn good impulse control and eventually learn to leave steak or chicken or liver, but I want my dog to be as successful as possible in the beginning.
And, I think it helps the human to not become as frustrated!
So separate your high level treats and your low level treats in your pouch.
I put my low level in the right side and the high level in my left. My right hand is dominant and will do most of the work with the low level treats.
I have my dog sit in front of me (if he can sit) if he can’t “sit” on command that is fine.
This is also appropriate to do with puppies! So I put a small low level biscuit in my right hand.
Next I open my fist to show my dog the treat. 99% of dogs lunge purposely toward the cookie or treat; this is normal and to be expected.
As soon as this happens I close my hand around the treat.
This is critical.
We want the dog to make the choice on his own!
If the dog has to rely on a command, he will still be more likely to steal food from small children and from others.
If we teach him to control himself, by his own choice we are teaching him a stronger behavior.
As soon as he stops actively nuzzling, scratching, poking, nibbling etc. for the treat and has given up click (click on this link for why the clicker is critical) and reward with a higher level treat from the left hand and the left side of your pouch.
Dogs are smart.
The dog will very quickly realize that you are giving him something more tasty and rewarding.
Continue doing this until he understands that NOT stealing the treat or rewarding himself is what you want and will get him rewarded.
The Next Step
The next step is to move the placement of the treat in your hand. Use your left hand.
Hold the treat high.
Hold the treat low.
Place your palm on the ground.
Move your hand away quickly (think of jerky movements like children make).
Teach your dog that no matter what an open OR closed fist with treats is NOT HIS!
Then use the higher value treats. Put chicken, liver, or steak in that open palm and make sure your dog understands that no matter how good the treat is he cannot be rewarded by stealing. Be patient!
Refusing a much tastier reward is much more difficult! It is at this point that you CAN let him have the treat in your hand if you tell him that he can. Some people don’t ever want to do this… and I understand. The behavior is more solid if he doesn’t think he will ever have a chance to snatch a treat from your palm.
This doesn’t mean you can’t give him treats… of course. It just means that his likelihood of success is probably higher. But, it also teaches them to listen for clarity. So it is an option, but one you must make on your own!
Do this for many days/several weeks. Remember a dog with impulse control makes a much better pet. And, if you do this in a happy manner it can be fun for you both! Keep your eyes out for the next installment of our impulse games!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.