What is impulse control in dogs?
When I first started dog walking in California in 2013, teaching dogs not to pull on the leash and to listen to directions came pretty naturally. But I as time went on, I gained a couple of clients who were more of a challenge. Zena loved to zigzag on the leash, doing her darndest to drag you along against your will, and heaven help you if another person/people/dog came into her vision because that meant she SIMPLY HAD to greet them, resulting in lunging powerfully to the end of the leash, jumping up and down excitedly, yipping in a high pitch...she was a 9 month old Rhodesian Ridgeback, so behavior like this was exhausting for her owner, and for me on our one hour walks together.
She had no impulse control. She had no impulse control because no one taught her appropriate behavior for these situations. I saw her every day for an hour, so I spearheaded this training happily, actually. It took 3 months, and even now thinking about it I feel exhausted! Haha!
What does "impulse control" mean?
We all learn impulse control, from the time we are babies growing into toddlers, adolescence on up into adults, and we have to exhibit it every day. A teacher friend of mine recently said, "Adults are no different from middle schoolers, they just hide it better."
This has such a ring of truth: instead of complaining out loud how Bill is annoying us because it would make us feel better, we think it to ourselves instead and complain to our significiant other or best friend later. Rather than eat the entire box of mac & cheese, we control our impulse and put half away as leftovers. (Unless you're my husband, who frequently eats the entire box AFTER adding peas and cut up hotdogs to it.)
Impulse control is the ability to delay instant gratification.
In dogs, this means being taught how to appropriately behave in the world we have brought them into. No counter surfing, no cat chasing, no biting/barking/jumping for attention, and so much more.
For Zena, this meant no leash pulling, no lunging towards people walking by, no rushing out the door for her walk. It was about making the walk enjoyable for both of us, easier on the handler's body, easier on HER body, and creating a safe and fear-free environment for those in the community.
Why is it important for dogs to have impulse control?
Would YOU want all our pet dogs running a muck, with poor dog owners running behind their dogs everywhere as the dogs dragged them from one interesting thing to the next? Would YOU want dogs to jump on the table for your food while you're trying to eat, chase the cat, not know "Sit, Wait, Stay" in dangerous situations? None of us would take our dogs anywhere ever again. Our dogs, these deeply social creatures who want to spend lots of time with us, would be subjected to a lonely life separated from us while we go out to have fun.
With impulse control, your dog
learns to suppress their urges.
They learn how to respond to signals and cues from you and their environment.
We can teach them default behaviors, like sitting when a human approaches.
It's a large part of bite inhibition with puppies, which prevents serious bites from occurring when your dog is an adult.
How do I teach my dog impulse control?
Here are some quick tips to help with teaching your dog impulse control. With Zena, I used a "catching" method to address the pulling on the leash. She pulled, I simply stopped walking. If she created slack on the leash by looking at me, or coming to me, I gave a treat as a reward, said, "Let's go," and continued walking forward. Another way you can do this is by taking a step, and waiting for your dog to sit. Reward, and then take another step. Wait for your dog to sit. Reward. Repeat, until your dog is sitting automatically once you stop after each step. Then gradually increase the number of steps you take between stops, making sure your dog sits automatically at a stop.
- Don't repeat the command. Here's a dog treat for you: repeating the command is because you observed your dog ready to break from the command...their control was wearing out.
- Back up, and practice shorter times, that you gradually lengthen, always ending on a positive note.
- Write down your results from each session, so you can pick up where you left off the day/week before.
- Think “Do this instead” rather than “Don't do that!”
You can also watch the #PawsitiveTV Facebook Live I did about this very topic below, where I talk more specifically about some fun doggy impulse control games!
On A Personal Note:
It's nearly Independence Day here in the States, and I have been busy with work. So far, it's actually been the busiest time of year for me. I welcome two new cat clients: Solo, who looks like he could be related to my own Ozzy; and Lyla, Apollo, and Mr. Cuddles.
Yes, Mr. Cuddles is an ironic name.
My last couple of weeks have been filled with cat check-ins and dog walks, and is going to continue to be filled with cat check-ins, dog walks, and an overnight pet sitting -- and I am ecstatic about it. I've been impatient, I will admit. I wanted to DO THE THING, instead of only talking about doing the thing. Now I have more things to talk about! Haha!
Both of my cats (and husband) are healthy and happy, thank goodness, though training with them to stay quiet before their food is put down is at a standstill. Or maybe at a stand-off is a better description.
Isis has it down pat. She's a silent watcher, full of patience and trust while I prepare the food. Ozzy, on the other hand, will release a few meows with long silences inbetween during preparation, but as soon as I am about done starts up insistently. I think he thinks I am intentionally starving him, by the way he meows sometimes. For him, the connection that if he's quiet the food will come faster hasn't happened yet. So I am slogging through the consistency phase. Will keep you updated unless he drove me to the looney bin first.
Cheers + Wags!