Monday, October 14, 2013

Teacher's Pet Training - Impulse Control? What is that?

by Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA

Sometimes, what our dog wants to be doing and what we want our dog to be doing is not exactly the same thing. Like when our dog wants to be running, chasing, jumping, barking – all those fun doggy things – but we want our dog to be sitting quietly at our side. In training, we call this “impulse control."

Basically, impulse control is teaching your dog that doing something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally will have a big reward. Think about some of your dog’s impulses that might cause you some problems. Chasing squirrels? Jumping up on visitors? Barking at other dogs? Lunging at food or toys in your hand?

There are two main components to impulse control training. First, minimize the amount of reinforcement your dog gets for engaging in the impulsive behaviors you don’t like (hint – leashes are very helpful for this). In other words, do not pay attention (negative or positive) to your dog if s/he is jumping on you or others, barking at you or others, etc. Second, reward your dog frequently for choosing the behavior you do like! For example, whenever you have a visitor, feed your dog lots of kibble/treats for sitting and staying. If you continue that, your dog will be much more likely to choose to sit and stay than to jump up. Another example involves your dog seeing a squirrel on a walk. If s/he gets a treat for looking at you and heeling/walking nice, then the impulsive chasing will decrease.

However, we do want our dogs to be dogs! The great thing about impulse control training is that, once your dog is getting the hang of it, you can use the opportunity to do the fun thing as the reward for the behavior you like. You looked at me and got in heel position when you saw that dog approaching us? Great dog – let’s go say hi! Check out our classes on self control and emergency skills for some practice on impulse control skills like stay and leave it/off.  Here’s a video of some impulse control practice in action:

Happy Training!

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