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Friday, October 3, 2014

Impulse Control in Dogs - Obedience Wk. 2

This week in our Obedience Level 1 class we worked on Impulse Control, 
well when I say "we" I mean the rest of the class...
Ziva has great impulse control which was quickly proven 
when she refused to take part in the class exercise. 

"You want me to what? Nope, sorry." ~Ziva
One of the most important things in my opinion
 is to teach your dog impulse control.
What is impulse control? The ASPCA explains it really well, "In human psychology, impulse control refers to people's ability to delay gratification or resist their desires, impulses or temptations."
Basically it is what you would call self-control.
Most dogs do not naturally have self control, and it must be taught to them as you would a human child. The goal of teaching them self-control is so that they will instead of acting on the first thing that pops into their head, they will defer to us for guidance and commands.

For example consider this situation:
You set down your yummy, juicy, freshly topped burger on your low coffee table and leave the room because you forgot to turn off your gas grill on the back deck. A dog with no impulse control will see you leave the room and he'll be all over that burger! In fact he'll probably gobble it down so quickly that you will wonder if you forgot the burger in the kitchen and just brought you plate along without it.
Consider this same dog - you are opening a bottle of ibuprofen, it slips from your hands and the pills scatter all over the floor... *I bet you can see where this is emergency vet trip later because it's toxic to dogs and your pup licked up who knows how many pills before you could take control of the situation.*

Photo Attribution: Army Medicine via Flickr
Impulse Control is important for many other situations though and not just food. Food is a great place to start, and then graduate on to things such as "waiting" to leave the house, "staying" in your yard and not darting out into the road, "leaving" things that drop or small animals that your pup may see before you do...etc.

I wouldn't say our dogs are perfect at impulse control, it's a constant process that involves lots of continuing practice on all our parts - and I couldn't do it myself, thankfully I have a wonderful hubby who works on the same things and helps us all maintain consistent training techniques.

Ziva is better at impulse control than Dante - she may see a squirrel and dart, but as soon as I yell she comes to a halt, turns right around and returns to me. The problem isn't the "come" command, the problem isn't that she is a runner or will run away given the chance - she is great at off-leash heeling. The problem isn't her "heeling" either, the problem is that her desire to chase a squirrel overpowers her common sense to stay with mom/dad.

Photo Attribution: John Morgan
Dante...well he's bolted on me a couple times to chase a squirrel or neighbor cat, and unfortunately he won't come back until the little critter is gone and he's had his chase. By then I've usually caught up to him and he gives me a pathetic "sorry mom...I know i'm in BIG TROUBLE" look. Again it's the same problem: his desire to chase overpowers his common sense/training.

One thing to keep in mind is your dog's particular breed traits.
Dante and Ziva both being bullies have terrier in their lineage. Terriers were bred for hunting dogs, small terrier breeds were used to control rabbit, rat, and fox populations. Larger terriers were used to hunt badgers. According to Wikipedia, "The word terrier comes from the Middle French terre, derived from the Latin terra, meaning earth. Terrier is also the modern French for "burrow"." As these dogs were sent into burrows to catch their prey - this makes sense.
The larger terrier breeds were then mixed with bulldogs to create bull terriers.

What this basically boils down to is that a high prey drive (hunting) was bred into Dante and Ziva, so asking them to disregard something like a squirrel...can be challenging. But it can be done! They've come a long ways so far!

One way to work on your dog's self control and impulse issues is to teach your dogs to constantly be "checking in": giving you eye contact to make sure you aren't giving them instructions, but also "checking in" is a look where they ask permission before doing something.
On our Obedience Day 1 - that post HERE. We learned how to teach "checking in".

This is very important if you are going to be doing off-leash activities such as: walks, no fence play time, or hiking.

"Holy hounds tooth mom!! Do you see that squirrel!!"

The exercise we learned in class today was one my trainer likes to call: "It's Your Choice" (IYC).

One of the first things we taught our dogs was; "Leave It" which is not the same as IYC.

The biggest difference being that "leave it" is just an instruction, whereas IYC is a non-verbal game that helps to create a shaping base for your dog.
IYC inspires your dog to get creative and use their brain to try and figure out what you would like them to do, while "leave it" simply tells your dog to not touch something.

Teaching "Leave It":
For "leave it" we started small; a treat in an open hand. "Leave it", if Dante/Ziva tried to take it. If they left it alone then they were rewarded with the same type of treat but not the one they were looking at.

*The treat they see is not the treat they receive. Same type of treat - but "leave it" means that they can't have it, that particular treat is off limits.*

When they became pro's at this step we upped the challenge by placing a treat of high value on the floor while standing over it. "Leave it" when they approached - and not allowing them to have it. If they left it alone they were then rewarded with the same type of high value treat but not the treat that was on the floor.

Next challenge placing the high value treat on the floor and standing several feet away just watching the dogs. Repeating "leave it" if they approached it. Again rewarding them with the same type of treat, but not the one they were instructed to leave alone.

You can also teach this command for toys, and other objects besides food that are off limits.

For IYC The Game is Simple:
This is not my game - I learned this game from my obedience class.

Fill one hand of yours with irresistible doggy treats/food - something you know your dog wants.
Sitting on the floor pin your hand to your leg for support and open your hand.

The default position for your hand is *open.
If your dog tries to snatch food - close your hand. But as soon as they move away *open your hand. 
Remember the default position is *open.

Keep your hand *open at all times! Unless they try to snatch food - this is the only time you close it. If you dog paws, barks, or licks at your hand just wait. If they look away momentarily from your hand, then look back reward them for returning their attention to you. Eventually they will move away and give you room - as soon as they do say, "yes" and using your non-treat hand feed them a treat from your open hand.
Do not have treats anywhere else or in your feeding hand, only have treats in the treat hand that remains open!

It's that simple. As your dog gets really good at not crowding your for treats, then you can increase the difficulty by waiting for your dog to do a something specific such as sitting, laying down, head down, lifting a paw, head tilt, etc.

This is called shaping - waiting without giving commands for your dog to do something that you want them to do. In order to accomplish your goal however you must reward them at each incrementally small step.

To make the game harder - practice IYC in different settings, such as outside, and in high dog traffic areas.

Now for Ziva:

We had to modify the game a little bit because she wouldn't try to take the food from me. Having a very big family, and being around kids all the time it was important to us that our dogs not be "grabby" and take things from hands, especially the tiny hands of a child.
To accomplish this goal we don't feed our dogs table scraps and so people food is not a thing that they think they can have, and using the "leave it" command to train them, they don't even try to take things without permission anymore with or without us saying anything.

For Ziva, it's still quite clear that she is uncomfortable without the security of having her brother around and she isn't entirely comfortable with class setting. Our goal for her is to get her out of her default "safe" positions (sitting & laying down), and more into exploring her surroundings and getting comfortable moving around.

So for her we used shaping, I sat on the floor hand open and didn't look directly at her - our goal is to get her to use her brain more and try to figure out what I want rather than just looking at me (this meant I couldn't give her direct eye contact). Her default position is to sit patiently or lay down.
So to get her to move more I was instructed to reward her anytime she shifted her weight or did something other than a default position, then saying, "good!" and toss the treat somewhere nearby that would make her go get it.

At first she was hesitant and wouldn't go get the treat, so I had to be a bit more excited and encourage her to "get it!". But they she got the hang of it after a little while. 

At home, Dante loved that we were sitting on the floor for this game! He didn't understand IYC at first, but quickly jumped to be creative to earn those treats! Being more of a forward personality he quickly took to different shaping behaviors we were looking for.

Progress Report from Week 1:
The "Focus" is getting much better on our walks with both dogs, we've mostly been walking them separately so that we can focus on training. For both dogs we picked up a gentle leader to help with their "focus". They don't pull, but the prey drive/desire to chase is hard to break. When they used to see a squirrel their was nothing you could do to break their eye contact from the squirrel, now with the gentle leader we can walk in circles - the leader changes their head position so that they can't maintain eyes on the critter. And we do lots of circles until they are bored with the circles and refocusing their attention on us.
Also last week we were working on automatic sits which we've been working on and they now do it about 60% of the time.

"Treat, treat, gimme the treat!"
Gotta Keep Our Brain's Fit Too!!

FitDog Friday
Thanks to SlimDoggy, MyGBGV Life, and To Dog With Love for the FitDog Friday Hop!
Thanks to My GBGV Life and Cascadian Nomads for the Walk Your Dog Week Hop!

More on Shaping:
The Whole Dog Journal


  1. Great tips. We have the same issue with Maggie...her default is to sit and wait until she's sure there is no danger - getting her to move can be a challenge. We've done a similar technique with her tossing treats to get her to move. As long as Jack isn't around, it works. With him, it's impulse control that needs work.

  2. Great tip. We have no impulse control when it comes to squirrels and wabbits, but with other things we are pretty good. Thank you for joining both blog hops!

    1. Those squirrels are hard to not chase!! Wabbits, haha fun! Dante and Ziva have never seen a wabbit. :-)

  3. I like you explanation of the impulse control. Shiner has horrible self control especially when it comes to food lol... something I am constantly working on. Your girl is so pretty too btw!

  4. This is very important information. My dog is old and has good impulse control mostly because he isn't fast enough to grab food or run after another dog, but we run into young dogs that chase after us every time we go for a walk. Impulse control will not only keep others safe, it will also protect your own dog from a potential mishap.

  5. wonderful info and thanks for linking up to our pet parade blog hop as well.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  6. Kronos is the one with the worst impulse control right now, though he's still young and learning the rules and formal obedience. Bella and Terra are much better though those pesky rabbits do still illicit a desire to chase in all the dogs, though if we're on a walk they aren't allowed to chase them-if we're in our yard they are more than welcome to chase the rabbits. It's tough and takes a lot of practice to redirect the natural drives and instincts that are bred into dogs.


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