Impulse Control – Training and Work Through the Learning Process

You’ve seen them haven’t you?  Those amazing dog/handler teams that seem to be able to do anything?  It doesn’t matter what the person is trying to teach the dog, he figures it out and in no time at all has the skill mastered?  How does that happen?  I think the basis of the whole thing is Impulse Control.  Really.  The dog learned how to control his impulses long enough to focus on the training and work through the learning process.  So, how do we teach impulse control?  It’s so simple when you give it some thought!

Sue Ailsby calls it “Dog Zen” (… to get the treat, you must leave the treat.).  Suzanne Clothier calls it “Get your dog off welfare” (… have them work for whatever they want).  Susan Garrett refers to the “Premack Principle” (… to get what you want, you have to do what I want).  Simple!  Now to get more specific…

One of the first exercises to teach a new puppy (or older dog) – “Wait”.  Put a really yummy treat in your hand and show it to your dog.  While Phido is pawing, nose pushing or grabbing at your hand, your fist stays closed.  When he backs off for a second to think of another way to get the treat, open your fist and give it to him.  Repeat this behavior until you can show him a treat on your open hand and he looks at you for permission before he gets the treat.  He’s just learned to control his impulses and give you his attention to get his treat.  (He’s working for something he wants.  To get what he wants he has to do what you want – leave the treat and look at you.)  That’s a great start!  Now you can generalize that behavior!

Think about the things your dog wants that he can’t get/do for himself.  Opening the cupboard with the dog treats in it, opening the door to outside, filling food bowls, getting the tug toy off the top of the refrigerator for a nice game of tug, massage on the couch during TV time… the list is endless.  Make yourself a list of the things your dog likes and another list of the things he knows how to do.  Then ask for something you want before you give him what he wants.  For example, Phido wants to go for a walk.  If you’re willing to go for a walk, perhaps he needs to do a sit or down stay while you put on your coat and boots and get out the leash.  If he won’t do his stay, take off your coat and boots and walk away from the door.  Come back in a minute or two and try again.  He’ll quickly learn that the only way to get out for a walk is to do what you ask first!  Impulse control!


If you want a solid “wait” at the agility start line, you must insist on getting it or “Fluffy” doesn’t get to go play agility!  You ask Fluffy to “wait” while you lead out, if Fluffy gets up before you release her to run, you must stop her and make her go back to wait.  She does not get to play until you say so – she must do what you want before she gets what she wants.  Just as a side note – if Fluffy breaks her wait 2-3 times in a row, you should probably put her away for a few minutes.  She does NOT get to go jump and tunnel if she breaks her wait!  That can be a tough thing to do when you’ve paid entry fees, but if you are consistent it will only happen a couple times before you get her full cooperation!


Start looking for ways to teach your dog impulse control – and start seeing your dog become the one other handlers look at and say “I wish I had a (place your breed of choice here)!” For information visit Pet Planet.

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