Free Consultation


Teaching Impulse Control Through Dog Sports

Teaching Impulse Control Through Dog Sports

Understanding Impulse Control and Zen

Let’s talk about something that is near and dear to my heart – helping our furry friends develop emotional self-control. As someone who has trained a wide variety of dog breeds over the past three decades, I’ve seen firsthand how impulse control, or what I like to call “zen,” can make all the difference in a dog’s behavior and overall well-being.

You see, impulse control is really about the ability to delay gratification. It’s that moment when your pup sees a delicious treat on the floor and instead of diving in, they look to you for permission. Or when they hear the garage door open and resist the urge to start barking and bouncing off the walls. These are the kinds of behaviors that, with the right training approach, we can instill in our canine companions.

But it’s not just about the observable actions. The “zen” aspect is what’s happening underneath the surface – the dog’s internal emotional state. Are they feeling calm and thoughtful? Or are they wound up and frantic? This mental component is just as important, if not more so, than the outward behaviors. After all, a dog who appears well-behaved on the surface but is secretly stressed or frustrated isn’t truly displaying impulse control.

The Genetics of Zen

Now, I know what you’re thinking – some dogs are just naturally more “zen” than others, right? And you’d be absolutely right. There is a definite genetic component to a dog’s propensity for impulse control and emotional regulation.

Just like people, our canine friends can fall anywhere on the arousal spectrum. Some are born with a laid-back, easygoing temperament, while others are high-energy, intense, and always on the go. Breed tendencies can give us a general idea – think about the differences between a mellow Labrador and a busy Border Collie.

But even within a breed, individual dogs can vary widely. I’ve met calm, thoughtful Border Collies and rambunctious, impulsive Shih Tzus. So while genetics play a role, it’s not a hard and fast rule. The good news is that all dogs, regardless of their natural inclinations, can learn to be more zen.

Training for Zen

So how do we go about teaching this all-important skill of impulse control? Well, I’ve developed a whole repertoire of “zen exercises” that I start implementing the moment I bring a new dog into my life. The key is to make the training process as rewarding and successful for the dog as possible, right from the start.

I begin by establishing some clear marker cues – signals that tell the dog when they can have the thing they want, and when they have to wait. This could be a verbal cue like “go ahead” or a visual signal like me presenting an open hand. The idea is to quickly show the dog that by waiting patiently, they’ll get what they desire.

I also make sure that every single one of these exercises is set up in a “win-win” scenario. I want my dogs to experience success right away, rather than feeling frustrated and defeated. After all, the last thing I want is for them to associate this training with constant denial and conflict. No, I want them to see it as an opportunity to earn great rewards.

As Deb Jones eloquently explains, “If we make them more frustrated, we are doing the opposite of what we want to be doing. We’re making them more frantic and we’re introducing conflict, and that’s the last thing I want to do.”

So I start with the bar extremely low – maybe just a split-second of stillness before the reward comes. And then, over time, I gradually increase the challenges in small increments. I’m constantly tuned in to my dog’s body language and emotional state, ready to scale back if they’re starting to get overwhelmed.

The Zen Benefits

You might be wondering, “But why go to all this trouble? Is teaching zen really that important?” Well, my friend, I’m here to tell you that it is absolutely essential, no matter what your training goals may be.

You see, a dog who has learned to be zen is a dog who is calmer, more relaxed, and better able to focus. They don’t frantically try to grab every single thing they want the moment they see it. Instead, they wait patiently, confident that good things will come to them if they just exercise a little self-control.

And let me tell you, that calm, thoughtful mindset is a game-changer when it comes to training. Whether you’re hoping to excel in dog sports, create a well-behaved companion, or simply have a more enjoyable day-to-day life with your furry friend, impulse control is the foundation you need.

As the American Kennel Club points out, “A patient dog is better behaved and less demanding. But it’s also great for your dog. Rather than feeling frustrated by their need for instant gratification, they will feel calmer and more in control of their environment.”

So if you have a wild, high-drive dog that just can’t seem to control themselves, or even a seemingly mellow pup that could use a little more impulse control, I urge you to give these zen exercises a try. Trust me, the transformation you’ll see in your dog’s behavior and overall wellbeing will be nothing short of amazing.

Zen in Action: Dog Sports

Now, I know what you’re thinking – “Zen is all well and good, but how does it translate to the real world, especially when it comes to dog sports?” Well, my friends, that’s where the magic really happens.

You see, impulse control is absolutely crucial in dog sports, where your canine athlete needs to be able to focus, stay calm, and respond to your cues – even in the midst of high-energy, high-distraction environments. As Helene Lawler explains, there’s a big difference between “static” impulse control (like a dog holding a stay) and “dynamic” impulse control, where the dog maintains their calm, focused state even while in motion.

And let me tell you, that dynamic impulse control is like gold when it comes to sports like herding, agility, or obedience. I’ve seen so many dogs who are amazingly talented, but just can’t seem to keep it together when the pressure is on. They get amped up, lose focus, and end up making mistakes that cost them dearly.

But the dogs who have really mastered the art of zen? They’re a joy to work with. They can maintain their cool even in the most exciting, high-arousal situations. They’re able to read my cues, respond appropriately, and execute with precision – all while keeping that calm, thoughtful mindset.

It’s the difference between a dog who explodes out of the start line and a dog who waits patiently for your signal, then powers through the course with focus and control. Between a herding dog who rushes in, scattering the sheep, and one who approaches with measured confidence, gently moving the flock where you need them to go.

So if you’re hoping to excel in dog sports, whether it’s agility, obedience, herding, or anything else, I can’t stress enough the importance of building a rock-solid foundation of impulse control. It’s the key to unlocking your dog’s true potential and transforming them into a focused, responsive partner.

Zen for Life

But you know, the benefits of teaching zen to your dog extend far beyond the competitive arena. In fact, I’d argue that these impulse control skills are essential for any dog, regardless of their sporting aspirations (or lack thereof).

After all, how many of us have dealt with those frustrating, high-energy behaviors – the jumping, the pawing, the rushing out the door? These are all manifestations of a dog who hasn’t quite learned to control their impulses. And trust me, living with a dog like that can be, well, exhausting.

On the other hand, a dog who has mastered the art of zen is a delight to be around. They’re calm, they’re focused, and they’re able to wait patiently for the good things in life, rather than frantically trying to grab them. As the AKC puts it, “If you teach your dog self-control, they will be more pleasant to live with.”

And the best part is, these zen skills serve your dog well in all areas of their life, not just when they’re competing or performing. Whether it’s waiting politely for their dinner, resisting the temptation to chase a squirrel, or calmly greeting visitors, a dog with impulse control is a dream to live with.

So if you’re looking to create a happier, healthier, and more harmonious household, I can’t recommend zen training enough. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, benefiting both you and your canine companion in countless ways. And who knows, maybe you’ll even discover a hidden talent for dog sports along the way!


At the end of the day, teaching impulse control and zen to our dogs is all about setting them up for success. It’s about creating a calm, thoughtful mindset that allows them to thrive, whether they’re competing in the agility ring or just lounging at home.

Sure, some pups may have a natural inclination towards this kind of emotional regulation. But with the right training approach – one that focuses on positive reinforcement, gradual challenges, and a deep understanding of our canine companions – any dog can learn to be a zen master.

So if you’re ready to take your dog’s behavior to the next level, why not give these zen exercises a try? I promise, the transformation you’ll see will be nothing short of amazing. Your dog will be calmer, more focused, and better able to excel in whatever they put their mind to. And you? Well, you’ll finally get to enjoy all the fun and excitement of life with a truly well-behaved, impulse-controlled canine companion.

Tags :
Share This :

Get Updates with our



Join our passionate community of dog lovers. Embrace the journey of companionship with Ihavedogs, where every dog gets the best of care and love.