Impulse Control in Dogs

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.

Kirby the boxer mix

Kirby the boxer mix up close and personal

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:  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

Until Next time,


The Alpha Dogs’ Wife


About adventuredogs

I'm the "Alpha Dog's" wife... Life Partner and Co-owner of Adventure Dog Ranch, The Vacation Destination for Dogs! A place where canines socialize, exercise and have fun. You don't have to feel guilty when you take a vacation, your dog can have his very own vacation with us!
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9 Responses to Impulse Control in Dogs

  1. I love dogs and this article as well. You can tire a dog out quicker though mental stimulation than you can with physical. A fun little fact I thought I would share with your readers.

    • Best theory is to make certain that your dog gets the best of both worlds. They really need adequate physical exercise to get to the point where they can settle down and think for themselves. Knowing what you want from you comes with training… (If you’re not actively training your dog, he or she is training you.) Dogs love games that are mentally stimulating too…

  2. Great article and good read! We gave our Lab a “college” education but he still has trouble with the long downs.

  3. Morgan says:

    Awesome article! I’d like to think our dog is trained pretty well – while still letting him be a playful dog! There are a few things up here, though, that we could definitely work on. We definitely need to work on making him sit and wait when we go through doors. Either he bolts out and tries to trip us or he bolts out and slams up against the siding because we don’t see him coming. Always something to work on. 🙂 Thanks for this!

    • Morgan, Thank you for your response. A well trained dog doesn’t lose his personality, it simply opens up far more doors to them socially because the dogs’ human counterpart isn’t embarrassed by the dogs behaviors. Training a dog isn’t all about sit/stay/lay, it’s more about human to canine communication and learning what is appropriate to the situation. A dog that has learned to sit quietly when he or she is uncertain of what the proper etiquette is, is a dog that will be welcome just about anywhere. Good luck with your doorway manners training. I have a hunch you’ll have that licked in no time.

  4. Excellent article. We have a Deutsch Drahthaar (German Wirehaired Pointer…sort of). He is a working dog and this article nails it.

    • The good news is that Chief is getting better day by day. He’s big, powerful and overflowing with the DDE (Dreaded Doggie Energy.) I’ve been working him with other energetic, but more “under control” dogs to show him that responding to commands (even when under the influence of playtime,) is not only desired, but expected.

      By working him with other dogs like Andy and Libby (both of which will drop everything and sit on a dime even when chasing another dog,) Chief gets to see how much extra attention and “good dog” rewards and opportunities these two get because they do as I ask.

      Chief is easily distracted but the drive for attention and affection is very strong. He wants that attention almost as badly as he wants to chase everything that moves. If we continue to use this to our advantage and we reward him for behaviors we want, we can get where we want to be.

      Continue to reward him when he is calm and under control and try to avoid getting him riled up when there’s nowhere constructive for that energy to go. We will survive “The Early years” of Chief. Andy was every bit as wild and crazy as Chief when she was young and now she’s one of the best dogs in our pack.

      One other tip… try not to give commands that you have no possible way of enforcing… we have to build up enough successful repetitions to create a conditioned response that’s so well ingrained, that it becomes more like a reflex than a thought process . if you’re telling him to come and you know you’re in a situation where he’s not going to comply and that you can’t make him do it, you’re essentially setting yourself up for failure. The trick is to start with no distractions (like in your living room,) and add a little more challenge when he’s been rock solid for a couple of days.

      As always, keep training sessions short and fun and remember your attention and affection in itself is a valuable reward…
      Good Luck!

  5. Push says:

    That’s a really useful post. Thank you. My wife and I are getting our first dog in a few days time (a Cockapoo puppy), so I’m sure I’m going to be returning to your blog quite a bit in the coming weeks and months.

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