Today, we’re diving into the world of impulse control! Impulse control is all about our dogs managing their own impulses, rather than us having to micromanage them and constantly tell them “stay,” “leave,” or “no!” Just like humans, dogs can struggle to control their impulses – particularly around things they find exciting or worrying. This can lead to undesirable behaviours such as pulling on the lead, barking or jumping up. By working in impulse control in our training, we can help our dogs learn to make good decisions and offer behaviour we like around many common distractions, exhibiting self-control and making better choices. Impulse control can also help to reduce frustration in our dogs, as they are offering behaviours rather than trying to access something and being denied.
How do we teach impulse control?
It’s a good idea to start by teaching a few basic behaviours first, such as sit, so that our dog has some idea of behaviours that often “pay” well. Behaviours such as checking in with us, sitting or lying down are all behaviours we would often like our dogs to be doing instead of many impulsive behaviours we see. If our dogs have a reinforcement history for these behaviours, they are more likely to try offering them when we start our impulse control training.
The next important thing to remember is that we need to make it REALLY easy for our dogs to get it right. Rushing ahead will cause our dogs to become confused and frustrated or to simply exhibit the behaviours we aren’t so keen on and potentially have these behaviours reinforced.
Another factor of impulse control is that we aren’t going to cue our dogs – if we ask our dogs to sit, stay etc then we are managing them; the goal of impulse control training is for our dogs to be managing themselves. There’s nothing wrong with teaching our dogs cues like sit and stay – however, we want to avoid using these cues when the goal is to teach our dogs impulse control skills.
Finally, it’s important to remember that we need to always reward our dogs for making good choices. Exercising impulse control shouldn’t be a losing situation for our dogs – we can reinforce their good choices by providing an alternative reinforcer (eg rewarding them with a treat) or by giving them a release cue if the thing they are leaving is something they can have!
Fun Impulse Control Exercises
One fun impulse control exercise you can get started with is “Mousey Mousey!” This game taps into natural hunting-type behaviours and most dogs find it really good fun. Not only is it great for building impulse control, it’s great mental enrichment that we can practice at home or out and about. On days when we can’t get out on walks for whatever reason, this is a fun activity to do at home.
You can find a training tutorial for “Mousey Mousey” on Dogversity
Another simple impulse control exercise includes teaching our dogs not to dive in when they see food fall on the floor – this is a really tough challenge for many dogs but is also a great life skill for our dogs to have! We humans often eat food that isn’t safe for our dogs – particularly around the holiday season – so teaching them default to leaving food alone could avoid a very stressful and dangerous situation.
You can find a tutorial for this impulse control exercise on Dogversity, too!
We also have our Impulse Control Masterclasses
that can help you teach you and your dogs all about impulse control. Our Puppy and Dog Training classes
also cover Impulse control as well as other life skills that are vital for your dogs!