Impulsive dog behaviors such as jumping up onto people, puppy nipping, a failure to resist the temptation of getting into the garbage can and even running out the door are all reasons for your dog to learn to have self-control. By teaching how to display the desired behavior — whether it’s leaving socks alone, not running up and clobbering a kid, or sitting at a doorway before being let outside — you are creating a best friend who will be mindful of their surroundings, nearby humans and even other dogs.
In the realm of good dog training, impulse control drills are what you should use on a daily basis to help a dog achieve the goals of good behaviors, behaviors you consider to be civilized and acceptable to everyone. In this article, I will highlight a few of these drills so that you can practice them in intervals of just a minute or two. Remember that dogs have short attention spans, and learning these new behaviors will last longer if done in small daily practices and performed consistently over the span of a few weeks.
The first step is to sit on a chair, in front of your leashed dog (you can step on the leash so that they don’t walk away), holding your closed left hand full of treats against your leg so as to not let it move around in the air. You want your hand and arm to be stationary as much as possible. This will allow your puppy or dog to continue to lick, nose-nudge and paw at your hand. The second they stop, praise with a mark of your clicker or use the word “Yes!” Then, with your right hand, take a treat out of your left hand and give it to your dog. Repeat the above until your dog has learned to wait, be patient and not go after your hand full of treats. Time it’s then to take a break.
Once your dog has consistently practiced the ability to leave your hand alone, then you can begin opening up the hand full of treats, repeating the same position of your hand against your leg as described above. Immediately close your hand so not to allow them to get the treats if your dog attempts to lick, nose-nudge or paw at your hand. As soon as they move away or settle, try opening your hand up again and wait for them to sit patiently, marking this with a clicker or a “Yes!” and delivering the treat with your right hand from your left hand. It is vitally important that you do not give them a treat from your left hand, as you are doing a specific drill that creates self-control. They will also learn that they cannot assume that you will immediately hand them the treat they are being asked to leave alone. Repeat the above until your dog has learned to leave your open hand full of treats alone, then take another break.
Once your dog has consistently learned to leave the open hand full of treats alone, place a bowl full of treats on the floor. Repeat the above techniques by pulling the bowl of treats away if they go after it. You do not need to position your arm against your leg, and in this case, it does not matter which hand you use to deliver the treat to them. When they have mastered this, take a break.
There are other impulse control drills that I teach, including getting a dog to calm down and not jump, or teaching them to take a treat from your hand without harshly biting you. Teaching a dog to sit and stay at a doorway will save their life. Many dogs, especially young, untrained puppies, have unfortunately lost their lives due to being hit by cars because they never learned to control their impulse to run out the front door.