One of the most common issues dog owners face is dealing with a dog who has poor impulse control. What does this mean exactly? Well it means you have a dog that is always reacting and not thinking.
For a dog it makes sense to grab food as it hits the ground, jump on a visitor when they enter a home and bark out the window at something they see. It’s our job as good pet parents to teach our dogs that just because they see/want something right now that it can be better to wait.
Teaching your dog to have impulse control isn’t always easy. Some dogs are naturally polite but most dogs need to be taught. It is arguably the most important life skill and not just for dogs but people too! Impulse control is what prevents humans from stealing, fighting, etc. It’s a skill we work on with our children as babies and toddlers. People who struggle with impulse control often grow up entangled in our justice system. For dogs who struggle with impulse control it often means numerous homes, trips to the animal shelter or worst loss of life.
How do we teach impulse control? In a variety of ways and exercises. Here’s a few of my favourites:
- Leave It – this is a skill where we ask the dog to leave something they want and are rewarded for doing so. I’ve detailed Leave It before on my blog and you can find the article here.
- Stay – oh the value of stay! We are literally asking the dog to hold still and reinforce the behaviour. Stay is useful for so many things but most commonly for greeting visitors and keeping doorways safe from dogs that bolt.
- Sit for doorways and when passing people/dogs. We’re encouraging our dogs to maintain a sense of calm when presented with something exciting.
- Call Front (basically the dog sits in front of you and faces you). I’ll typically set the dog up so their back is turned to the stimulus.
- Teach a go to place/bed/crate. This teaches the dog to move away from something over stimulating into a quiet area. This is my favourite way to deal with dogs who are too enthusiastic about visitors.
- Ask your dog for a trained behaviour before playing with, throwing a ball, petting, etc. For dogs who need to learn impulse control I’ll often ask them for a sit or a down before I do anything that they want. This reinforces the dog to think and be calm in order to get what they want.
The most important part of working with dogs who have low impulse control is to start slow, reinforce A LOT (like way more treats than you ever thought you’d need) and keep distractions to a minimum while the dog is just starting out. Keep your dog on leash to minimize bad behaviour or even get the dog to do exercises while in a crate (really helpful if the undesired behaviour involves kids).
If your dog mouths/bites when over excited then incorporate a basket muzzle into your training so your dog is safe to be around yourself and other humans/dogs while training. Basket muzzles can work great as you can still slip treats through the gaps to reinforce your dog.
Most dogs greatly benefit from working with a trainer when they struggle with impulse control. A good manners class can do wonders.