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Teaching your dog to have impulse control

Dog Door Manners

Does your dog snatch at your hand when you are offering a treat, knock their food bowl out of your hand at dinner time, barge through doors as you open them, lunge towards ‘sidewalk snacks’ or ‘footpath freebies’, or lunge after joggers, bikes or cars while out walking? If so, your dog may need help with their impulse control.

Impulse control can take a lot of work for some dogs but will pay dividends in the long run. Teaching a dog to have impulse control doesn’t have to be just about training, we can incorporate the training into fun games and everyday interaction. One of our favourite sayings is “every interaction with your dog is an opportunity to train your dog”.

Meal Manners

Next time you are feeding your dog, try working on their meal manners. With your dog’s bowl in hand:

  • Have your dog sit
  • Start to lower the bowl
  • If your dog stands or jumps up, stand up straight and start again
  • It may take a few repetitions before your dog understands that jumping up makes the food go away. Be patient, calm and consistent. 
  • When you can place the bowl on the floor without your dog moving, praise them and give them a release command such as ‘free’, and encourage them to eat
  • You may wish to extend the time to a few seconds between placing the bowl on the floor and allowing them to eat

Leave it

Teach your dog not to grab something without permission.

  • Hold a treat a few inches from your dog’s nose and introduce the ‘leave’ cue
  • If the dog goes to take the treat at any time, close your hand over the treat 
  • Repeat the exercise 
  • When the dog ignores the treat, give a release command such as ‘free’ and give the treat to the dog
  • Variation: place a treat on the ground and give the ‘leave’ cue. In the early stages, you may need to cover the treat with your hand and slowly uncover it as the dog demonstrates impulse control.
  • Advanced: show your dog a ball and give the ‘leave’ cue. Slowly roll the ball past your dog and praise and reward them for leaving it. Gradually increase the speed or proximity of the ball roll. The same principles can be applied for a dog who lunges after joggers/bikes/cars. Start with a jogger/bike/car moving slowly and far away, and gradually build up the ‘leave’ training by bringing the jogger/bike/car closer and moving faster. Remember the priority is to keep your dog safe at all times so practise on leash and at a safe distance. 
  • Tip: If your dog accesses the item they were told to leave, they are being reinforced for ignoring the cue. Therefore, it is essential that you control the training so that they are only reinforced for following the cue and demonstrating impulse control. 

Door / Gate Manners

This exercise takes time, patience, repetition and lots of praise. Have the dog on a collar and lead for this exercise, walk to the door, ask the dog to sit. Go to the door whilst rewarding the dog for not moving. If the dog gets up before you have given a release command, immediately close the door, give a light verbal correction, have them sit and start again. 

On the next attempt, you may start to open the door before the dog gets up, the time after that you might be able to step through the door. Dogs are opportunists and they do what works best for them in the moment. Before too long, they will realise that trying to barge through a door makes the door close, whereas remaining sitting until they are given a release command gives them access.

Once your dog has mastered door manners, you can then start practicing at your gate, the dog park gate etc.

Impulse control is the foundation for good manners. It helps our dogs to behave better in a world full of people. Well-behaved dogs can accompany you to more places and get more interaction. Everyone wins with a well-behaved dog, especially the dog. 

For more good manners, consider enrolling your dog into an obedience course. Our 3-week group obedience course will help you teach your dog essential skills such as sit, drop, stay, loose-leash walking and recall. By practising in a group setting, your dog will learn to focus on you even when there are distractions such as other people and dogs.

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Justin Jordan Trainer

Justin Jordan

Master Trainer

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