In our environment, it can get kind of crazy with all the dogs running and playing at the same time. Since our dogs are screened to weed out aggressive types, we enjoy a lot of high stimulation play time. It also becomes very important that we control the aspects of the play that we can. Even with the best of dogs, things can get out of hand pretty quickly. We work hard at controlling our environment, controlling the tempo as well as teaching and reinforcing impulse control.
With many working breeds, these impulses are ingrained in their DNA… Things like chasing after moving items, herding, running and barking (while tracking a scent,) flushing birds, pointing & retrieving. Breaking the “act without thinking first” mold isn’t easy, but it is necessary if we want a pet that fits in well with our human lifestyles. Like many desired traits, impulse control is a learned behavior and often goes against the very nature of a dog, so patience is required.
Things to practice: (most of these are pretty self explanatory, but I’ve provided links to instructions for teaching a few that you might not have heard of or thought to try.)
- Basic Sit: Sit = Dog’s butt remains on the ground until you give the release command. If the dog breaks the “sit” before being released, put him back in the same physical location you had him sit in before and make him sit again. Give the release command after a few seconds of compliance.
- Eye contact (training this is very similar to name recognition but you’re rewarding the dog for making eye contact and checking in with you without using verbal cues. If you can get eye contact in association with your dog’s name, you’re doing great!
- Long Sit (dog must sit quietly until released. Practice until the sit is rock solid and build duration to 20 minutes or more. This comes in very handy when you’re unloading groceries from the car.)
- Long Down Stays (Just like above but the dog is laying down, work up the duration until your dog is comfortable holding that down stay for 20 minutes!)
- Sit and Wait: For safety’s sake, please teach your dog to “sit and wait” before going through doors, helps reduce risks caused by bolting dogs. Sit / Stay or Wait should also be practiced prior to feeding dinner and/or treats. The Dinner and treats can be the reward for the sit and stay (until released,) giving the pet the pleasure of working for his food. (Don’t you know that treats taste better when they’re earned?)
- Leave it: http://www.dog-obedience-training-review.com/leave-it.html Leave it can also be practiced on leash with a trail of dog food. Sprinkle a couple of treats in the area and walk by them on leash while giving the command “Leave it” Come back by these treats a couple of times and when the dog starts to understand that he gets better stuff by ignoring the trail of food, reward the dog with a treat or an activity he enjoys.
When performing these or any other dog training exercises, start simple. Start inside with no other distractions and slowly, work towards success in more stimulating environments. Add in a distraction or two at a time. There are few dogs that can maintain total impulse control at the dog park, but ideally, that’s what we’re working towards; a dog that is responsive to us even in utter chaos. A little success will bond you together, building a relationship based on trust. You may think that since Fido has mastered all of these in the living room, he should be fine outside, but dogs do not generalize well, these exercises should be practiced in a myriad of different locals adding as many different new distractions (children, other animals, other textures, other smells) as you can think of while maintaining a safe environment for everyone.
Keep in mind that we need our dogs to both maintain a healthy weight as well work for things other than food, so try not to get too hung up on using dog treats as rewards. There are a multitude of other rewards that can be used as currency. A toss of a ball, a belly scritch and your attention are all things that most dogs value as much as we humans value our currency, money. Your attention / affection is incredibly valuable to your dog. Trust me, 99% of dogs will work for it. If you have one of the 1%’ers you already know that your dog is not “Lassie” but rather a unique and independent pooch. Relax, you will eventually figure out what motivates your dog.
Your dog should not be demanding of your attention, he should be willing to work for it. Training should be fun for both of you. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong. Always stay calm during these exercises. Most dogs will get over stimulated if you act too happy and many will cower when you get angry, you want a dog that will respond to a whisper, so practice that too.
Here’s a great article with more training tips from the ASPCA http://aspcabehavior.org/articles/77/Impulse-Control-Training-and-Games-for-Dogs.aspx
Until Next time,