Dogs lacking impulse control might display excessive mouthing and jumping, constant movement, an inability to settle down, snatching items and running away, or bolting out the door. These annoying behaviors usually begin in puppyhood. Just as a lack of impulse control in children can presage poor outcomes later in life, a lack of impulse control in our furry children can be a red flag for future aggression and/or relinquishment. Veterinary Behaviorist, Dr. Christopher Pachel explains, “Impulsive puppies or dogs may become hyper-aroused and tip faster into aggression, based on the circumstances we put the animal into.”
Not surprisingly, recommendations for building impulse control in children and in puppies are strikingly similar. They include managing the environment to facilitate success, removing distractions and temptations, teaching alternative behaviors that are consistently reinforced, and taking frequent breaks. Physical punishment, which is itself impulsive, is not recommended, as it can exacerbate the situation. Professional dog trainers have a secret weapon to make impulse control fun for the dog. The Premack Principle makes the more likely behavior contingent on the less likely behavior. Simply translated: Teaching the dog to do a behavior for you before they get to do what they want. Some examples would be “Wait,” before leaving the house, “Sit,” before greeting people, “Watch Me” before chasing the frisbee.
Working impulse control into your puppy’s daily routine, is important for a healthy, happy future. And a lot easier than attempting to undo the harm later in life. “Here we are now with a project dog and will the client want to spend the money and take the time to do the work that could have been done earlier?” asks Dr.Sally Foote, Veterinary Behavior Consultant.
Viewing ourselves as Parents, responsible for teaching our puppies with patience and kindness how to behave in our world, puts us in the right mindset to build a cooperative relationship that lasts a lifetime.