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Teaching Impulse Control to Your Dog

Teaching Impulse Control to Your Dog

Impulse Control: The Key to a Harmonious Canine Companion

Does your dog jump all over you when you’re trying to put down the food bowl? Do they paw and whine for attention? What about rushing out the front door or pulling on the leash? These behaviors might seem harmless, but they all stem from the same underlying issue – a lack of impulse control.

As a dog trainer, I’ve come to see impulse control as the foundation for a well-behaved pup. It’s the difference between a dog who politely waits for their dinner and one who scarfs it down the moment it hits the floor. Between a canine companion who calmly greets visitors and one who jumps up, desperate for attention. Between a hiking buddy who sticks by your side and one who darts out the door, chasing after every squirrel in sight.

You see, dogs aren’t born with the ability to control their impulses. It’s a skill they have to learn, just like “sit” or “stay.” And it’s a crucial one, because a dog who can’t curb their instincts is a dog who’s going to get into all sorts of trouble. Counter-surfing, door-dashing, leash-pulling – these are all behaviors rooted in a lack of self-control.

But the good news is, impulse control can be taught. With patience, consistency, and the right training techniques, even the most impulsive pup can learn to manage their urges. And believe me, the results are life-changing. A dog who’s mastered impulse control is a dream to live with – calm, well-behaved, and a true joy to be around.

So if you’re tired of wrestling with your dog’s unruly antics, it’s time to dive into the world of impulse control training. Trust me, it’s a game-changer. Let’s get started!

The Power of “Wait”

One of the most valuable impulse control exercises I teach my canine clients is the simple, yet oh-so-effective “wait.” This cue teaches your pup to pause and resist the urge to rush forward, whether it’s to gobble down their dinner or dart out the front door.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Mealtime Mastery: Start by having your dog sit and wait while you prepare their food bowl. Hold the bowl at shoulder height, and as soon as your pup’s rear end hits the ground, mark the behavior with a “yes!” and reward with a tasty treat. If they try to jump up, simply raise the bowl and try again.

  2. Doorway Discipline: Next, practice the “wait” cue at doorways, gates, and even the car. As you approach an exit, have your dog sit or lie down and wait. Only release them with an “okay” once you’ve stepped through first. This keeps them from bolting out ahead of you, which can be downright dangerous.

  3. Generalize, Generalize, Generalize: Once your dog has the basics down, start incorporating the “wait” command into your daily routine. Ask them to wait before you throw a toy, before you pet them, or before you release them from their crate. The more you practice, the stronger their impulse control will become.

The beauty of the “wait” exercise is that it can be tailored to suit any situation. Need your dog to pause before greeting a new person? “Wait.” Want them to hold off on scarfing down their dinner? “Wait.” It’s a versatile tool that teaches your pup to stop and think before reacting.

And the payoff is huge. A dog who can reliably wait on cue is a dog who’s less likely to jump on visitors, dart out open doors, or gulp down potentially hazardous items. They’ve learned to control their impulses, which means you get to enjoy a calmer, more well-behaved companion.

The “Leave It” Lifesaver

Another essential impulse control skill is the “leave it” command. This teaches your dog to resist the temptation of something they find irresistible, whether it’s a tasty morsel on the floor or a neighbor’s yapping Chihuahua.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Start Small: Begin by placing a high-value treat in your closed fist and holding it in front of your dog. As they paw and sniff, wait for them to back away – even if it’s just for a split second. The instant they do, mark the behavior with a “yes!” and reward with a treat from your other hand.

  2. Gradually Increase the Difficulty: Once your dog has the hang of ignoring the treat in your hand, start placing it on the ground and covering it with your foot. If they try to go for it, simply re-cover it and wait for them to back off again before rewarding.

  3. Generalize and Proof: As your dog becomes more proficient, start incorporating “leave it” into your daily life. Drop treats on the floor and ask them to ignore them. Toss a ball and have them wait until you give the “okay” before chasing after it. The more you practice, the stronger their impulse control will become.

The “leave it” command is a lifesaver, quite literally. It can prevent your dog from gobbling down something harmful, like a piece of chocolate or a discarded chicken bone. And it’s an invaluable skill for keeping your pup safe around other animals, children, and potential hazards.

Plus, teaching “leave it” is a great way to build trust and communication with your dog. They learn that by listening to you and controlling their impulses, good things happen. It’s a win-win for both of you!

The Wonderful World of “Place”

One of my all-time favorite impulse control exercises is the “place” command. This teaches your dog to go to a specific spot – like a mat or bed – and stay there, no matter what temptations or distractions are going on around them.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Introduce the Mat: Start by placing a comfortable mat or bed on the floor and rewarding your dog any time they interact with it. Toss treats onto the mat, praise them when they lie down on it, and gradually build their positive association with this special spot.

  2. Cue the Settle: Once your dog is comfortable with the mat, begin asking them to “place” or “go to your mat” and reward them for lying down and staying there. Start with short durations, gradually increasing the time you ask them to remain on the mat.

  3. Proof with Distractions: The real magic happens when you start introducing distractions while your dog is on their mat. Things like people walking by, toys being tossed, or even other dogs can challenge their impulse control. Reward them lavishly whenever they resist the urge to leave their spot.

The “place” command is a game-changer for dogs who struggle with impulse control. It gives them a designated “job” to focus on, rather than letting their instincts take over. And it’s an incredibly versatile tool – you can use it to keep your dog calm and settled during mealtimes, visitors, or even vet appointments.

Plus, mastering the “place” cue builds your dog’s confidence and trust in you. They learn that by listening to your instructions, good things happen. And that’s the foundation for a lifelong, harmonious partnership.

Harnessing the Power of Your Dog’s “On/Off Switch”

One of the most effective ways to teach impulse control is by playing structured games with your dog. Activities like tug-of-war, fetch, and even just wrestling can be transformed into powerful impulse control exercises.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Add Pauses and Cues: When you’re in the midst of a high-energy game, suddenly stop and ask your dog to “sit” or “down.” Wait for them to comply, then reward with the chance to keep playing. Over time, you can add a specific “settle down” or “relax” cue to reinforce the behavior.

  2. Increase the Difficulty: As your dog gets the hang of it, start ramping up the intensity of the game before asking them to settle. See if they can go from a frenzied chase to a calm, controlled “place” on your command.

  3. Generalize to Real Life: The skills your dog learns during these structured play sessions can translate to everyday situations. When they start to get worked up during a walk or visit, you can use your “settle down” cue to help them regain their composure.

The beauty of these impulse control games is that they’re fun for both you and your dog. They get to indulge their playful side, while you’re sneakily teaching them a crucial life skill. Plus, the reward of continuing the game provides a powerful incentive for them to master those impulse-control behaviors.

And the benefits go far beyond just obedience. A dog who’s learned to “switch off” on cue is less likely to engage in unwanted behaviors like jumping, mouthing, or excessive barking. They’ve developed the ability to self-regulate, which makes them a pleasure to be around.

So the next time you’re playing fetch or tug with your pup, see it as an opportunity to work on impulse control. With a little creativity and consistency, you can turn playtime into a valuable training session – and create a calmer, better-behaved dog in the process.

Putting It All Together

When it comes to teaching impulse control, the key is to seize every opportunity you can. Look for those moments in your dog’s daily life when they’re tempted to indulge their impulses – whether it’s lunging toward a squirrel or leaping up to greet a guest – and use them as a chance to reinforce calm, controlled behavior.

Start small, with simple exercises like “wait” and “leave it.” Master those skills, then gradually increase the difficulty by introducing more distractions and challenges. Incorporate the “place” command to give your dog a designated spot to settle, and don’t forget to make a game of it with activities like tug-of-war and fetch.

The more consistent and creative you can be with your impulse control training, the faster your dog will pick it up. And trust me, the payoff is huge. A dog who’s learned to control their impulses is a dog who’s a joy to live with – calm, well-behaved, and responsive to your guidance.

So if you’re tired of constantly scolding your pup for their unruly antics, it’s time to dive into the world of impulse control. With patience, persistence, and a little bit of creativity, you can transform your furry friend into a model of self-discipline. And in the process, you’ll build a bond of trust and respect that will last a lifetime.

Ready to get started? Head over to to explore our wealth of training resources and expert advice. Together, we’ll help your dog master the art of impulse control – one “wait,” “leave it,” and “place” at a time.

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