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Trainer’s Corner: Impulse Control

Part One

When your dog or puppy darts for that toy or other dog, grabs that piece of food from the floor, or dashes out the door, it is easy for owners to become frustrated. For those moments, I want to remind you that impulse control is not something most dogs were born understanding. 

In fact, they can be pretty impulsive. They see something they want and they will just go for it. If they get whatever they want, then they will surely try again. It is that immediate gratification that reinforces that tendency to behave that way more often…even if something negative will happen later on. 

Think about it in terms of people. I love soft serve ice cream. While I am trying to lose weight, that instant satisfaction that comes from every taste is what pulls my car toward the summer stand. Others may overindulge in alcohol for the feeling it gives them even though they know they will awake the next morning feeling really crappy. 

Knowing this, it is important to remember, you have a role in teaching your pet (and people you live with) to want to make the choices you want to see, or at least choices that will be ok for your lifestyle. 

Here are some tips for beginning that process.

Give your pet plenty of acceptable options to get his needs met. While every dog and animal is different, yours will have basic needs including physical and mental stimulation, sleep, nourishment, defecation. If you don’t give your pet acceptable options, he will gladly come up with his own choices…most of which you may not like. 

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Manage to prevent your pet from getting reinforcement for behaviors you do not want to see repeated. 

Be aware that with every interaction of every waking moment, it is the consequences of behavior that determine the future rate of that behavior. 

Consider how you can incorporate the lessons of impulse control into everyday choices.  

  1. The choice of barking in a crate gets humans to walk away or ignore him but the choice of sitting quietly gets the crate door to open. 
  2. The choice of sitting at a door that opens gives him the opportunity to go outside but the choice to make a move toward the door makes the door close.
  3. The choice of dropping a toy at his owner’s feet gets him a tasty treat or a game of tug or something else but the choice of running away from his owner with the toy or keeping the toy in his mouth gets the owner to ignore him. 
  4. The choice of barking and pushing over you gets you to stay seated and keeps the car door closed but the choice of sitting in the car seat gets the door to open.

What can you add to this list? 

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At the same time, think about how you can add greater value to the acceptable behaviors your dog does so that he will choose to do those behaviors more often. Or what behaviors do you need to teach your dog that can help him to succeed in that circumstance?  If you want your dog to choose to lay in his bed instead of bumping you while you are working at your sink, how can you make that choice more valuable for your dog (while ignoring the behavior of bumping you)?  If you want your dog to sit and stay while you attach a leash, teach him that sitting and waiting is what gets leashes to be attached (and walks to happen). 

In my next post, I’ll share a beginner’s game on teaching impulse control.



Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, is a certified dog trainer (and certified parrot behavior consultant) with So Much PETential who uses and teaches the most positive strategies for changing pet behaviors. She offers individualized dog and puppy training for manners and problem issues. Learn more about her at www.SoMuchPETential.com
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