Useful in nearly every situation, self-control or ‘Impulse Control’ can take away the frustration and embarrassment associated when around other people, animals, or moving vehicles. Let’s look at the following practical principles, patterns, and habits that can help them stay calm and focused in all situations.
1. Firstly identify what it is that your dog wants – that is what’s called the ‘reward’. This could be wanting to go for a walk, wanting you to play with them, wanting attention, or wanting food.
2. Now, we want the dog to perform a satisfactory behaviour before rewarding them. For example, when my dog wants to go out for a walk, he usually comes up to me and puts his paws up on my arm if I’m sitting. Then when I get up and pick up his leash, he gets all excited and starts jumping up at the door. I don’t want him to jump at the door and scratch at the paintwork, so I put the leash down again and turn away. This behaviour tells him he needs to try something else – an alternative behaviour. He will usually then sit down facing me (not the door) which is good. By saying ‘Stay’ (a word he already knows), he will stay in position until I say ‘Free’ (another word he knows). So I can put the leash on him and make him ‘Stay’, even while I open the door.
3. Patience and practice are the keys to changing your dogs’ behaviour. Staying calm and in control is critical as opposed to flying off the handle and yelling at your dog. Displaying noisy or negative behaviour only confuses your dog and they get more excitable and anxious if we are in a rush for results. Whatever you do, never hit your dog out of frustration. A dog learns by repetition, so spending time waiting for your dog to calm down and follow orders is essential in making progress.
4. Pick the behaviour you want your dog to learn and be rewarded for, and practice it. But not for too long as dogs can’t jump or perform tricks or do certain behaviours for hours. As soon as the dog has performed the behaviour to your satisfaction, reward him or her. It only takes a few times of repeating that new behaviour for it to sink in and they will automatically go to that one instead of the old one.
5. Be consistent. We send mixed messages if one day we allow the dog to scratch at the door to go out for a walk, then every alternate day decide to change what we want him or her to do. The dog will become confused and stressed, especially if you get angry or upset.
6. Always be on the lookout for new opportunities to teach your dog calm and controlled behaviour techniques. These can include:-
- Training the dog to sit and wait for your cue before eating their meal
- Asking your dog to sit and wait for your cue before jumping into the car
- Letting your dog know to wait for your cue when letting them off their leash at the beach before running into the fresh ocean waves to frolic and play
Remember, when we try to punish the behaviour, confusion, anxiety, and stress enter the equation getting in the way of making progress. Using clarity, patience, and calm persistence will get your dog the treat they are after, and reward you with a job well done. You can even show off your new found training methods to friends and family.