Tips for Teaching Your Dog Impulse Control and Why it Matters
One of the biggest problems that I see in dog training is a total lack of impulse control.
Ironically, this wasn’t a HUGE issue 20 years ago.
I think, back then, people had fewer distractions, and at least taught their dogs basic manners.
These days, dogs lack even simple manners.
I see adult dogs (5 and older) that lack any manners.
You see, impulse control kind of = manners.
I control my impulses.
I may think that your lunch at the restaurant looks really good, and I may be super hungry, but I am not going to take your food off of your plate and eat it.
When people irritate me at the store, I don’t punch them in the face.
If I find someone attractive, I don’t run up and throw my legs around them.
My parents taught me from a young age that is not how people act.
We have impulses all of the time, thoughts, ideas, and desires, but we know how to control them appropriately.
However, if I had been raised in the wild, I probably wouldn’t have great impulse control.
Dogs Must Be Taught Impulse Control
Dogs don’t spring from the womb knowing they can’t have everything they want.
Just like it is important to teach your children, it is critical to teach your dog.
I don’t want to live with a dog that steals my food, jumps on me, nips me, and does everything he wants.
I want a good canine companion, with manners and obedience!
Quick Tips for Teaching Basic Impulse Control:
Wait for Your Food
Most of the time people just sling dog food into their dog’s dish and walk away.
Many times the dogs are jumping and spinning and flying around.
Some dogs will bark and bounce and demand being fed.
And, these people simply give the dog what he wants no matter what behavior he is showing.
Rewarding these behaviors builds less control.
The dog learns that by getting excited and showing bad behavior, he will be rewarded.
Instead, make him show good behavior.
I get my dog’s food bowl out and wait for him to sit.
If he continues sitting, the bowl will slowly be lowered toward the ground.
If his butt pops up, the food bowl is raised.
I don’t even use a lot of commands.
I just want the dog to realize that if he controls himself in an appropriate way, he will be rewarded.
This teaches the dog to control his impulse to spin or jump or show other excited behavior in a very simple manner.
Once he learns to control a few of these impulses, he can learn to control more of them.
The next step is to teach the dog not to steal food out of my hand.
I put a mediocre treat in one hand (bland biscuit) and a really good reward in the other.
I open the hand with the mediocre treat, flat palm, and show the dog.
If the dog attempts to grab the treat, then I close my palm (keeping it at the same level) don’t snatch your hand away.
When he looks away from the treat in your hand or shows an appropriate behavior, mark it, and reward it.
The idea is, if you show good behaviors you will get a better reward!
Once he figures this out, raise and lower your hand with the treat, so the dog understands that it doesn’t matter where the food is; he still can’t have it (dogs often think the closer it gets to the ground the more apt it is to be theirs).
From there, use great rewards in both hands and teach the dog he can leave things that are really tasty, and if he does he will be rewarded.
We have created a game to help stop your dog from snatching things from your hands.
Click here to download the next step of the Stop Snatching Things From My Hand Game.
Once my dog can do the above task, I add a command or a cue, “leave it.”
Leave it means I don’t want you to look at it, touch it or eat it.
For instance, I use “leave it” if I drop something I don’t want my dog to grab, but I also use “leave it” if I don’t want my dog looking at the cat across the street!
So once your dog has some control over his impulses, teach him to leave it!
Click here for help with teaching “leave it.”
Teaching your dog some patience and a good “stay” is also a great way to work on impulse control!
But be careful while teaching this, or you could actually ruin your dog’s “stay” command.
Click here for more help with teaching the “stay” command.
My Favorite Impulse Control Game
From here, you can play my favorite impulse control game.
I like a dog that retrieves, but I also like a dog that listens.
So, once I have a dog that loves to play, I can teach him a game where he has to retrieve a ball on my command.
I want to teach my dog that he can stay when I throw his ball and chase it when I release him.
In the beginning, this is difficult!
First be certain that your dog has a solid “stay,” otherwise this isn’t really fair.
He will make mistakes.
He will correct himself.
Don’t become discouraged!!!
This is all part of the learning process.
But, it is serious fun for you and the dog.
I know, I know… it doesn’t sound fun at first.
But hunting and searching for the ball in the grass, or wherever it is, is mentally stimulating for the dog.
At first, reward the dog for short periods of staying while the ball hits the ground and reward him quickly.
Then, add duration to the stay before you release the dog.
Want to Make It Even More Difficult?
Ask the dog to give you eye contact and focus before releasing him!
If you do this correctly, teaching impulse control is FUN, and you will both reap the rewards!!!
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.