What is Impulse control?
Impulse control is your dog’s ability to practice self control. In teaching them this tool, it allows you and your dog to have a better quality of life. Instead of constantly reminding your dog to sit or focus or calm down, you give your dog the ability to do this themselves, which means they are able to calm themselves even when you aren’t there to tell them to. This is a very crucial tool for your dog in day to day life, especially in off leash parks.
Why is it Important?
Working with your dog and teaching them how to control their own impulses helps them to calm themselves and work with more focus and confidence in their day to day lives filled with distractions.
Two Simple Games for Amazing Results
1. Open & Close
Goal: The goal of this game is to teach your dog that waiting politely is what gets them good things. This game builds the impulse control to wait for treats and in later levels people, dogs and other rewarding privileges. Impulse control is essential in off leash as it gives your dog the skills to wait and check in before following their instinct to eat something off the ground or run over to another dog.
How to Play
Start off leash, in a quiet room, with high value treats and a clicker.
Hold a treat in your flat hand a few inches away from your dog.
As soon as your dog moves towards the treat, close your hand, tucking your thumb in.
As soon as your dog move away from your hand, even for a moment, click and give them the treat saying “Take”
Repeat steps 2-4 ten times per training session for two weeks. Then progress to Level Two.
Increasing the Challenge
Once your dog can move away from your hand for 1-2 second successfully five times in a row, delay your click and reward until they offer 3-4 seconds. Continue this pattern until you can get 5-6 seconds of calm. Note that before your dog is successful they will likely try a bunch of other tactics, such as swatting, nosing, licking and nibbling your hand. Stay firm and wait for the calm before rewarding. If your dog bites your hand, say “Oww!” and walk away. Wait for them to calm back down, 1-2 minutes, before starting the game again.
2. Auto Check-In
Goal: The goal is to capture and encourage your dog’s ability to focus by teaching your dog to “check-in” with you throughout a walk, without having to ask.
Science Behind It: By getting your dog to practice checking in with you, we are using operant conditioning to teach them that good things happen when they pay attention frequently! This will lead to it becoming a habit over time and give you more opportunities to instruct your dog and guide them to practice good behaviour.
How to Play
Have your dog on leash in a low-distraction area.
Look for any time your dog pays attention to you by looking at you, even a glance.
Click any time you see this and treat.
Once your dog gets good at this, begin clicking only when your dog can focus on you for 2 seconds or longer.
Repeat until your dog is able to watch you long enough to follow one simple cue you tell them to, such as “sit”. Release them from the sit by saying “break”, to let them know it’s okay to stop watching you.
Increasing the Challenge
Up the challenge by beginning to walk and play the game at the same time. Once they improve at this, you can try randomly rewarding your dog, this will make regular check-ins throughout the walk with you. As your dog becomes better at watching you more frequently, start to walk through areas that are gradually more distracting while playing the game.
Tips for Success
- Keep Your Treats Hidden
- Keep treats out of sight so your dog doesn’t learn to look for the treats before listening
- Pockets, treat bags behind your back, or on the counter beside you all work well
- Phase out Treats
- After the 10 days of practice start to phase out the treats and phase in verbal praise
- Treats for every 2-4 successful sits and offer verbal praise for every sit
- Over time slowly decrease your treats so your dog only needs verbal praise with an occasional treat
- Hit the Road
- Once you’ve mastered the game inside, practice in the backyard and then on walks
- Remember to reintroduce your treats in new locations and when there are new distractions
- Phase the treats out again once they have mastered the new spaces
- Wait for Great.
- The key to this game is patiently waiting, without reaction, for your dog to solve the problem. The first few times it will take time for them to solve it. Wait and be ready to click the instant they do.
- Seconds Count.
- The first few times your dog solves the problem and successfully completes the game will be extremely short. Have your clicker ready in hand to click for that moment.
- Set up for Success.
- Waiting for a high value treat can be too big of a challenge for some dogs, especially those that love food! Same thing goes if you’re waiting for eye contact in a busy area. If they are struggling, make the games easier so they have success and want to continue to play.