Impulse control. That little voice in your head that reminds you not to hug all the dogs you pass on your walk to work. That nagging reminder that your pup probably doesn’t need another toy, no matter how cute it is. Impulse control keeps our basest desires in check, but it’s not something you are born with. Impulse control is a learned behavior.
Children and teenagers lack impulse control. That’s why your two-year-old throws a tantrum when they don’t get what they want. It’s why your 16-year-old can’t stop texting. And it’s not just a human problem.
Adolescent dogs— those between 6 months and 2.5 to 3 years of age— are especially at the mercy of their impulses. It’s much harder for an adolescent to stop going after the fun and delicious things in life than it is for an older dog.
It’s much harder for an adolescent to stop going after the fun and delicious things in life than it is for an older dog.
Combine this with the hormonal changes taking place in the brain and body during adolescence (think: doggy puberty) and it can sometimes feel like your sweet dog was replaced by a horrifying puppy-shaped monster.
While there is no cure for adolescence, dogs can learn impulse control just like humans. In the exercises below, polite behavior earns your dog a reward, while impolite behavior results in the reward disappearing or moving farther away from your pup.
1. Say Please
Ask your dog to sit or lay down.
- Hold a toy or bowl of food in one hand and slowly lower it towards your dog. If your dog stands up (or jumps up), immediately make the food/toy disappear behind your back.
- Ask your dog to sit or lay down again then lower the object once more.
- Repeat until you are able to get the toy or food all the way down while your dog stays in position.
When you’ve achieved your goal, let them know they can “Take it!” and allow them to eat or play a quick game of tug.
2. Say Hello
When you would like to teach saying hello, first ask an approaching friend (human or human/dog pair) to stand still.
- Using a happy voice, get your dog’s attention on you then begin walking towards your buddy. If your dog becomes too excited (pulling, jumping or barking), stop and take two steps backwards.
- Ask for your dog’s attention again (and perhaps a “sit”) and, when you have it, begin to move forward.
- Repeat until you are able to reach your friend with all four of your dog’s paws dog firmly planted on the ground.
The reward here is getting to say hello, so no treats needed.
Car doors are the portal to fun, but beyond them, danger lurks. A reliable ‘wait’ command will prevent your dog from launching out of the car and into traffic.
- Standing outside the car, ask your dog to wait, and slowly begin to open the car door. If your dog begins to move towards you, immediately close the door.
- Wait for 15 seconds, and then try again.
The goal here is to get your dog to stay behind the door until you have it fully open, and let them know it’s safe to exit with a release word like ‘okay’ or ‘free’. Your dog learns that if they are too eager, they don’t get to leave the car. When they are calm and paying attention to the cues, their reward is to get out and explore the world.
“Wait” also works well at regular doors and gates. If your dog attempts to walk through before you’ve given them your release cue, the door quickly closes in front of them.
Featured image: Dreamstime