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What Is Impulse Control?

by | Mar 3, 2021

Dog laying in the grass

Why Understanding And Teaching Your Dog Impulse Control Is Important

The term “impulse control” may seem foreign in context to dog training, but it is the backbone of successful training. A lack of learned impulse control displays itself in many unwanted behaviors such as jumping, barking, lunging on the leash, and biting. Teaching your dog to be more aware of their bodies and actions will nip a lot of these problems before they start or get them under control if they have already begun.

Teaching your dog impulse control will not only help you reduce unwanted behaviors, but it will also give you a calmer dog as a result of this training. Over time, your dog will begin to associate that being in a relaxed state is rewarding. You can teach your dog impulse control in big training sessions or bite-sized moments throughout your normal day, all depending on what you chose to work on. No matter how you slice it, you will be able to have your dog pay more attention to what you want, rather than having to correct inappropriate behavior.

Why Teach Impulse Control

Ever try to ask your dog to stop jumping on a visitor or even you when you’re walking in the door? This is a perfect example of an instance where impulse control can be utilized to curb an annoying behavior. Sure, your dog wants to greet you immediately. But you know what would be nice? Getting lots of pets with four paws on the floor. I love seeing my dogs as much as the next guy, but I also don’t want my groceries knocked out of my hands either.

Giving your dog opportunities to build up their ability to control their behavior is critical to work on as early as possible. With our puppy, we asked for a “wait” during our initial crate training from the day we brought her home. Now, she has learned that just because the crate door is open, she cannot exit the crate until I release her with an “Okay” signal. This helped get her excitable peeing under control as she has been growing up. We also use “wait” for leaving the house, going on walks, or being let out into the backyard.

These small opportunities will teach your dog that it is better to approach situations in a calm, relaxed manner rather than running full speed ahead. Granted, this may sound like an impossible task with a puppy or very high-energy dog. Small steps will win the race with this and it’s helpful to work on training impulse control when your dog is tired and therefore more likely to relax. Or, you can even incorporate impulse control into your fetch games, training sessions, or tug-o-war, all of which I’ll cover below.

How To Practice Impulse Control

The easiest way to integrate impulse control in your everyday routine with your dog is to teach them to wait for their food when it is feeding time. As you go to place your dog’s food bowl on the ground or in their crate, ask them for a “wait”. If they go to lunge for the bowl, pull back and wait for them to be calm. With a highly excitable dog, you may want to start slow and reward them for simply sitting still for a moment. Increase the difficulty of this exercise each time you feed them, eventually working up to having the bowl on the ground.

Another example of using food is to teach your dog “leave it,” which teaches them to leave something alone when asked. This is critical if your dog lunges for something they shouldn’t have, such as a piece of trash on a walk or a chunk of chocolate that fell onto the ground. By teaching “leave it,” you are telling your dog that they need to ignore whatever the item is and focus their attention back onto you. This is great at instilling the concept that there are things they should and shouldn’t interact with and look to you for guidance.

You can also use impulse control during rounds of fetch or tug-o-war. Begin the game by asking your dog to sit before either throwing the ball or engaging in tug with them. Have them sit for a moment and then reward them by beginning the round of play. You can ask for a sit when they bring the ball back and wait to throw it again until they have relaxed some. Work your way up to lie down or even add a “wait” in there as well. Your goal is to get your dog to associate patience with reward.

With all of these exercises, it is important to pay close attention to your dog’s body language and positioning. You want to reward them before they break and not after. Look for that golden opportunity where they have settled into the behavior but don’t push them too much, as you want to reward as many successes as possible. With the waiting for food example, don’t ask them to wait for thirty seconds if you haven’t asked them to hold the wait for more than a moment or two before.

Summary

No matter what situation you find yourself in with your dog, there is always room for improvement and room for new successes. Teaching your dog to look to you for guidance and assuming a more relaxed state will always be better than a lunging or jumping dog. With patience and intermittent training, you will be on your way to having a relaxed, four-on-the-floor companion.

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