The theme for this month’s Positive Pet Training blog hop is “Impulse Control”. I never really gave a lot of thought before to impulse control and what it means for dogs. It’s not that I had perfectly trained dogs, but more that I just wasn’t familiar with formal dog training and the terms involved. Until Luke came along, we didn’t do a lot of specific training with our dogs, other than basics, but we certainly worked with some on different issues they had. Our golden retriever Sheba’s jumping on people comes to mind.
Our success with Sheba may illustrate impulse control perfectly. Even with the competition of other dogs for attention, Sheba would sit and wait for her turn to greet people. You could see her literally quivering with the desire to jump but holding herself back! It’s been a lot of years since we did that training, but I think we mostly just turned our backs to her when she started to jump, and she learned that jumping was not going to get her what she wanted.
Impulse control in dogs basically refers to having them wait patiently for things they really want. You may not want your dog running out the door when it’s opened, jumping on people for attention, or grabbing treats out of your hand. Training impulse control means teaching your dog to be calm and polite when they want something.
Our Lab mix Maggie was also a jumper and though we tried to discourage her, there were plenty of people in her life that didn’t mind her jumping on them (which made training her out of it more difficult!). When I started to see the same behavior in Sheba, I knew I didn’t want her doing that. It was just something I didn’t like; even though it didn’t necessarily bother some people in our lives.
I think most pet families probably have specific behaviors they don’t want in their dogs, and others that they don’t mind while others do. Jumping on people, pulling on the leash, and begging at the table come immediately to mind. Begging at the table is a pet peeve (excuse the pun) of mine, so it’s something we work on. I don’t mind Luke jumping on me when I get home (though I try to control it which I’ll get into later), and I want him to bark at strangers coming to our door. I don’t like leash pulling so we work on that.
For me, I’ve found impulse control to be something I didn’t always specifically train for, but other commands we’ve worked on have helped with teaching Luke to wait patiently for things. Training Luke to sit, stay, and go to his bed are ways he learns to stay under control.
While I want him to bark at the window to alert us someone is here, I don’t want it to go on endlessly. If it’s a stranger to me, I might let it. One morning when my hubby wasn’t home a strange man walked up our driveway and came to the door. We have an enclosed entryway with a glass door on the inside. I let Luke bark at the other side of the glass door while I opened the one to the outside to see what this man wanted. He was no threat, but if he had been, he might have thought twice when I was within reach of the door Luke was at.
On the other hand, if someone comes that I know, I like to try to get Luke to go to his bed and be quiet, or into his crate if they are coming inside. Then I want him to stop barking, though we’re still working on that. I want him to equate going to those places with being quiet and settling down, so that’s what we practice.
I like Luke to get excited when I come home. I want to know he’s happy to see me. While that excitement often includes jumping on me, I’ve learned to use our “up up” cue, so that instead of jumping at me with both paws, I put my arm out and he rests his paws on my arm (if I’m not quick enough, sometimes I catch his paws in my hands instead). That way he’s not knocking me over. Because he’s fearful of everyone but my one sister, I don’t have to worry about him jumping on anyone else (she doesn’t mind). My hubby doesn’t like the jumping and Luke has learned that, because my hubby taught him an alternate behavior. Once he initially runs around with excitement and says hello, he then runs to the couch and waits for his Dadz there. My hubby goes there to give him attention and hugs. Luke is a smart dog and he learned that routine easily. Teaching him an alternative behavior really helps him to calm down!
He learned not to get grabby with treats by being taught to sit for them. Even when our beagle Cricket was still with us, and we didn’t always make her sit (because of her arthritis), he still would. Sometimes he needs to be reminded but often if you just wait for him, he’ll sit on his own.
I now also use his sit cue when putting his harness on before walks. He has calmed down some now that Cricket isn’t also getting wound up before we leave, but he’s still excited about his walks and he knows getting his harness on leads to that. It’s a work in progress, but he is getting better every day. Again, in this case, using a known cue helps him to focus and stay calmer.
I’m now trying the same logic to keep him from biting at the leash as we leave. I haven’t hit on the exact right thing yet, though using his cue “let’s go” seems to be helping some. One of the challenging things about teaching dogs patience, is that you need to have patience yourself. That’s where I fall short. It doesn’t work for me to just keep stopping every time he chews on the leash, so he learns he doesn’t go if he’s doing it. That’s the recommended method but he can chew the leash longer than I want to stand there waiting to leave. Now I’m trying to distract him with an alternative cue (and possibly treats) instead.
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Luckily for us, we have quality equipment in our Ruffwear harness* (he used to chew on that when he was impatient as well, but I think he’s finally over that, if I’m not too slow to get going), and our Nifti Safelatch leash* which has been holding up very well to his chewing (he’s chewed through other leashes in the past).
I’m also sure it’s easier with some dogs than others. Another case where I needed far more patience than I had? You’ve seen my photos and videos in the past of our late beagle Cricket barking at me to throw her ball. I tried and tried to discourage that behavior by not throwing the ball until she stopped, but she was willing to bark for a lot longer than I was willing to listen to it! Cricket had that beagle stubbornness, and I really had to pick my battles with her.
We still have a lot to work on with Luke. He can’t resist stealing a used tissue, sock, or glove in the house, or eating deer poop outside. For both of those things we use “leave it”, but it often just doesn’t work. I now try more “trade” – give up what you have, and I’ll give you a treat. We’ll see how that goes, while continuing to work on his “leave it” cue. He just really has trouble with that one.
In most cases with Luke, what works for me is tying in impulse control with all our other training. Luke learns well. His “stay” command keeps him from darting out the door when it’s open. The times he’s gotten out recently have been because the Dadz just opened the door and trusted Luke wouldn’t go through. If he had just said “stay” and put his hand out, I don’t think that would have happened.
That’s why it’s important all household members are on the same page. The Dadz breaks the begging at the table rules, and then wonders why Luke is next to him sticking his nose in his plate! They are just dogs, after all, and you can’t blame them for trying something that has worked in the past. But when he’s told to go to his bed, that’s exactly what he does. Consistency is also key, as is training husbands too!
We are pleased to be co-hosting the Positive Pet Training blog hop with Tenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is “Impulse Control”, however, you may share any positive pet training story, whether it’s on our theme or not!