To help your dog become a well-adjusted member of your family and of society, he’ll need to learn the basics of impulse control. Just like babies, puppies are put into this world with little impulse control. It’s up to us as owners to teach our dogs to resist their immediate desires and attain better self control. For a good part this is accomplished through training, but to better reap the benefits of owning a dog with good impulse control, you must implement training in specific circumstances and use life rewards to your advantages
Benefits of Training Impulse Control
Dogs are by nature, impulsive opportunists who don’t need to think twice when an opportunity knocks at their door. A piece of food drops to the floor? They eat it. A squirrel crosses their path? They chase it. They smell urine on a fire hydrant? They’ll mark over it. And when they can’t get to do what they want, they sometimes end up getting frustrated with the end result of a “temper tantrum” characterized by barking, whining and sometimes even mouthing.
Training your dog good impulse control means your dog gets to learn how to cope with delayed gratification. Calm, patient behaviors are rewarded; whereas, impulsive, out-of- control behaviors are not. Incorporating impulse control exercises into your daily routine will teach your dog that a more patient response is worthier than instant gratification. It’s the same principle of Grandma’s Law: eat your broccoli first and then you can have ice cream!
Impulse Control Exercises for Fido
Do you lead a busy lifestyle and don’t have much time for training during your busy work days? No worries! You can easily incorporate training into your dog’s daily activities by teaching these simple impulse control exercises. If your dog knows how to sit, most likely he’ll be able to perform most of these exercises. You may need to invest a bit of effort the first few days, but sooner than later payback will arrive and these exercises will become almost second nature for you and your dog.
Don’t reach for the treat pouch yet. In impulse control training, you’ll use for the most life rewards. What exactly are life rewards? They are simple things your dog looks forward to doing. If you ever saw your dog’s ears perk up and eyes brighten up, most likely they were emotional displays depicting the anticipation of a life reward. The following are some exercises for training impulse control.
- Waiting for Dinner
If your dog lacks impulse control, most likely he’s pacing, whining and bumping into you as you prepare his meal and place it on the floor. You can’t blame him though – by letting him eat when he’s in such an aroused state of mind, you’re rewarding all of those impatient behaviors. Start rewarding him for calmer behaviors instead. For instance, ask him for a sit before you put the food bowl down. If he gets up as you are putting it down, lift the bowl up again. Don’t let him have it until he’s sitting nicely and you give him the OK to eat. This may take some time, but you’ll be rewarded with calmer behaviors.
- Waiting at the Door
If your dog loves the great outdoors, most likely every time he sees you walking near the door he’ll start getting excited in anticipation of heading out. If you happen to open the door, he’ll likely bolt out. Not only can this be dangerous behavior if you live in an area with traffic, but it will again reward impulsive behaviors. Instead, put your dog on a leash and ask him to sit. If he gets up as you slowly open the door, close it before he has a chance of getting out. Teach your dog that the door opens completely only once he is sitting nicely and waiting for you to invite him out. You know he has learned well when you can open the door completely and he’s looking at you waiting to tell him it’s OK now to go out. If your dog loves car rides, the same exercise can be done by asking your dog to sit before you give him the release command to get inside.
- Waiting to Play
If your dog is a fetching machine, he’ll love this game as the game of fetch will be the life reward. Most likely, the moment you grab the fetching toy, your dog will start running in circles barking and whining in anticipation for the game. Instead of tossing the toy right away, which means rewarding his impatient behavior, ask him for a sit. The moment he sits, toss the toy. After several fetches, you’ll notice that your dog may actually sit on his own as he waits for you to toss it. Want to make the game even more challenging? Teach your dog to sit until the fetched item has dropped to the ground, then release him to go get it.
- Waiting for Attention
Most likely, if your dog is an attention seeker, he’ll be craving your attention for a good part of the day. Ignore his demanding behavior repertoire. Licking, barking and pawing at you are behaviors your dog has used in the past to get your attention and most likely you have given in by petting your dog or talking to him. Instead, train your dog to sit before you pet him. Sitting in this case is a more polite behavior that teaches self control.
- More Impulse Control Ideas
There are several other impulse control exercises you can incorporate into your dog’s impulse control program. Here are some more ideas you can use on walks. For instance, you can ask your dog to sit before putting his leash on. If he gets all bouncy, you walk away. When he’s calmer and capable of sitting, you walk up to him and snap the leash on. Also, you can reduce leash pulling by asking your dog to walk politely next to you in order to continue the walk. If he starts pulling, stop in your tracks. If he walks politely, reward him with the life reward of resuming the walk.
The Bottom Line
Impulse control exercises can really make a difference in changing your dog’s behavior. Remember though that change takes time. Don’t be impatient when your dog makes mistakes. Also, make sure Fido’s exercise needs are met so he’ll be less likely to be bouncing around from all that left over pent-up energy derived from lounging on the couch all day! A tired dog is ultimately a good dog as the saying goes.