By AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Breanne Long
For your sake – and that of your canine companions, teaching self-control, also called impulse control, is an important aspect of dog ownership. Not only will it make your life easier, it makes for a calmer and more focused dog.
If your dog dashes through doorways, starts into his dinner before you can even set his bowl down, or greets human guests like they’re his doggy friends, your dog could benefit from some impulse control training.
Pictured is Star, a 5-year-old All-American Dog, who has learned to sit politely and wait for her dinner to be set down and then given a cue from her owner to start eating.
There are some very simple games you can play with your dog to help him learn impulse control.
Wild Sits: One of my favorite impulse control exercises is called “Wild Sits.” In this game you use a toy or food to get your dog very excited, play tug or encourage him to chase you a few steps to get a food reward. Once he’s hyped up and into the game, stop moving, and go completely still.
If needed, you can trade your dog a treat so he’ll release the toy. Hold the toy out of your dog’s reach, if needed, and wait for your dog to offer a calm behavior like sit. Don’t tell your dog to sit or leave it; trust that he was having a good enough time playing to try to earn the chance to play again.
Most dogs know sit very well and use it as a default behavior. Chances are your dog will try it to see if it works. As soon as he sits, jump back into action playing with the tug toy or encouraging him to chase you. If you’ve never taught your dog to sit, you can simply wait for a calm behavior such as standing still or giving you eye contact. Pretty soon your dog will realize the faster he gets himself under control and sits, the sooner the game can start again!
Dinner Time: One of my other favorite ways to teach impulse control is during feeding. If your dog tries to get to the food dish before you’ve set it down, simply pick it back up, put it on the counter, and walk away. Try again a few seconds later. Continue this until your dog is no longer mugging you for the food bowl.
Once you’ve set the bowl down use a release word (a word that tells your dog she is allowed to eat; common words are ‘okay’, ‘free’, or ‘get it’) and encourage your dog to her food dish. The process of not mugging you may take several minutes the first time you try it, especially if you have a pushy dog or have allowed your dog to be pushy around her food dish for a long time.
Be patient and don’t correct your dog; she is getting all the information she needs by your putting the food out of reach when she is pushy. She’ll try something else once she realizes mugging you doesn’t work anymore.
As you get in the habit of playing these games with your dog you can start to expect a greater level of self-control when you ask your dog to wait, greet guests gently, or leave it. Remember, self-control is like a muscle, it gets stronger the more you use it!