Training Impulse Control

This issue’s training tip is brought to us by Erin Rakosky, a dog trainer with the AKC GoodDog! Helpline and a veterinarian. Erin competes in a number of dog sports with her dogs, including three mixed-breeds.

Do you have or know a dog that pushes out the door, runs out of crates as soon as they are opened, leaps out of the car as soon as the door is opened, and rushes to grab toys and food?  Chances are this dog is lacking impulse control.

Impulse control (self-control) is a wonderful and simple behavior to teach any dog.  Discussed below are several simple training techniques to help teach impulse control in your pet.   With most of these exercises, the reward is getting to perform the behavior they were rushing to do.

Exercise 1 (Release Command):


  1. Start this exercise with teaching your dog a release command.  
  2. Place your dog in a sit or down; reward them with a treat.
  3. Then, take several steps back while saying the release command (suggestions include release, break, free, OK, etc.); reward again.   Repeat this exercise several times a day for two to three days before starting the next exercises. 

Exercise 2 (Crate and Doorway Rushing):

  1. When you initially enter the area where your dog’s crate is located or when you are going to the door with your dog, first give them a few minutes to settle down before opening the crate or door. 
  2. Once settled, ask the dog for a sit or down.
  3. When the dog is in the preferred position, slowly open the door. 
  4. If the dog gets up to go through the door, close the door and ask them to sit or down.
  5. Repeat opening the door; if they get up again, place them back into the sit or down.
  6. Initially, you may need to repeat these steps multiple times before the dog will stay in the desired position until the door is open.  As you continue the training, the number of times your dog needs to be reminded will decrease. 
  7. Once the door is open, give your dog their release command and allow them to come out of the crate or through the door.

Exercise 3 (Waiting For a Meal):

  1. Place your dog in a sit or a down; reward. 
  2. Slowly begin to place the food bowl down in front of your dog.  If they get up or lunge for the food, stand up and place the dog back into a sit or down.  Attempt to place the bowl down again.  
  3. Once you are able to place the bowl on the ground, cover the bowl with your hands.  If the dog begins to try to nudge your hands for the food, continue to cover the bowl.  If your dog is still staying in their desired position, slowly remove your hands.  If they lunge for the bowl, cover the bowl back up and try again.
  4. Once you are able to place the bowl on the ground and uncover with your dog staying in position, give the release command and allow them to eat.

Exercise 4 (Waiting For Treat):

  1. Place your dog in a sit and reward. 
  2. Have another treat in your hand several feet vertically above the dog’s head. 
  3. Slowly lower the treat towards your dog’s mouth. If your dog gets up or lunges for the treat, pull your hand back up and place them back in a sit, do not reward. 
  4. Repeat this motion until you can bring your hand and the treat several inches in front of your dog’s mouth.  At this point if your dog is still sitting quietly, you can reward them with the treat.
  5. Next, repeat this exercise but with your hand several feet away horizontally in front of your dog.  Same rules apply, if your dog gets up and lunges towards the treat place them back in a sit and try again.
  6. If your dog loves to play, try this exercise with a toy too!