Teaching Your Dog the Importance of Impulse Control!
Impulses are defined at a sudden, strong and unreflective urge or desire to act.
Also defined as a driving or motivating force.
We all have impulses.
The impulse to get up or sleep in, in the morning, the impulse to find the bathroom, the impulse to cry or to laugh, we are inundated by impulses all of the time!
As we, as humans, age; we learn to control and not act on our impulses.
We have to get up, we have to use the rest room at appropriate times, we can’t cry or laugh when it is inappropriate we learn how to control ourselves.
And, we teach our children these lessons so that they too, can maintain appropriate behavior in social situations.
But Sometimes We Forget to Teach Our Dogs!
We think our dogs are so very cute no matter what they do, we spoil them a bit and we simply never teach them to control their impulses.
AND, they are dogs… so they don’t really see any need on their own to control their impulses!
The jump when they want to jump, some of them go potty where and when they want, they chase the cat when they desire, they steal food when we leave it out… they do what feels good.
They don’t really have the ability to look back and think about consequences. That is what separates us; we can think about what we will do tomorrow and reflect on what we did yesterday. Dogs live in the moment.
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: Cheese, 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 you 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.
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.