Dogs Impulsive Behaviour.
I heard a dog trainer recently say that 20 years ago, Dogs didn’t have impulse problems; it wasn’t an issue. Well, I am sorry, but I don’t think dogs have developed problems such as stealing food from your plate. Dogs have always had it in their nature to steal food and do things that we see as bad-mannered. The real problem is owners and the changes in our lifestyles. I am not going to get into the issue of whether we teach our children manners nowadays less than we did twenty, thirty, forty years ago. I will leave you to ponder on that. What has changed is our lifestyles. We have changed how we live our lives, and that means that dogs also have to live in a different world. Unless we train our dogs to live in today’s world, they will act on impulse, and we will label them as bad-mannered.
If I look back to when I was a child (Now I sound old), there were fewer distractions, and this meant people generally interacted with there dogs differently. Just one example, technology, people spend more time looking at their mobile phones or tablets in an evening or any spare moment they may have. Whilst they are doing what is their dog doing. If the dog has a tempting piece of food in easy reach and they are hungry I am sure it will be going through their mind that looks tasty, No ones eating it, it is just sitting there. Suddenly your dog’s mouth is watering, and the temptation is too much they have eaten the food.
I have made this situation up; I don’t know what your dog is thinking or what it understands. What I do know is you are distracted, and temptation in front of your dog. We have more or these small distractions today, and they all take our time. Time we could spend teaching our dog manners or even interacting with them more.
Dogs manner and Natural Instincts
I hear more and more stories from people of similar situations; they believe their dog is naughty; it just does what it wants when it wants. Dogs have natural desires they need to fulfil, if they see something such as food and they have never been taught, it is wrong it will take it. We have a responsibility to train our dogs and set down our ground rules. So what are we going to do about this?
Impulse overlaps with manners, and we learn as a child that socially some actions are wrong.
- When I was a child, my parent taught me that when I was visiting family friends with them, if I was hungry I had to wait, I shouldn’t just get up search the fridge and remove whatever I saw that took my fancy.
- If someone looked at me in the street and I didn’t like the look of them; I shouldn’t run up to them and kick them in the shins.
- When I was a teenager, and I saw an attractive girl, I knew it was wrong to run up to them throw my arms around them and start kissing them.
I learned during childhood that I might want to do something, but some things are unacceptable, and I have to control my impulses. These early life lessons are essential. Your dog is no different. They have the same impulses, and unless we train them, they will do what comes naturally.
Dogs Must Be Taught Impulse Control
I don’t want to live with a dog that acts on impulse stealing food, jumping on people, nipping, and doing everything they want when they want. I wanted my dog to be my companion, and I believe from what I hear, that is what other people want from their dog, along with good manners and obedience.
By now, you will have noticed I firmly believe training should be a fun and positive experience for a dog and there should never be and fear, anger or physical pain. If you want to make training fun, it is best to try and make it a game. Here are some suggestions to help teach necessary impulse control during various situations.
Waiting Game for food.
More often than not, when people feed their dog, they are rushing and preoccupied. Place the dog’s food down on the floor, and the owner will walk away. The dog may be bouncing around, barking and even have their nose in the bowl before it reaches the floor. The dog may be demanding food or just excited. The owner doesn’t necessarily realise they have rewarded the dog and reinforced the pre-meal actions. The owner ultimately has less control over the dog at this time.
It will help if you start by making a routine at your dog’s mealtimes. Your dog will benefit from knowing what there is a given process you go through at mealtimes. Your routine doesn’t need to be complicated. Here are some questions to help you at mealtimes
Where will the dog be when you make the food, in or out of the room?
Where will the dog eat?
If you have several dogs, will they be fed together or apart?
During mealtime, you aim to make your dog show good/ desirable behaviour.
Here is an excellent way to make mealtime a game and a challenge for your dog.
I recommend you make your dogs food when your dog is out of the room initially you can add the dog being in the place later if you wish, or keep the routine the same.
If your dog isn’t there, call them and ask them to “Sit.”
When your dog sits, start to lower the bowl to the floor slowly.
If their bottom leaves the floor, you start to lift the bowl back to the counter.
You should try and stay quiet after the initial command; you want your dog to realise they are in control. Once sitting and behaving the reward is given rewarded, the dog gets food.
Initially, you may need to give the sit command if they get too excited and jump up. Alternatively, if your dog jumps up and is very excited, put the bowl back on the counter, then ask the dog to sit again. Once sitting, you can pick up the bowl and start again. You don’t need to do this after a few attempts because your dog will quickly learn what is required. It is just that initially, they may be better seeing the food leave your hands and you give a command.
Doing this is a fun way to teach your dog they need to control their impulses and not, spin, get overly excited. This technique is a great starting point and will give you the confidence to address other areas where your dog needs training concerning being impulsive.
Stealing food is a complaint I hear time and time again. Generally, people complain about two different problems regarding stealing, first stealing from your hand and secondly stealing from a plate.
I suggest you try this game before you start other training because it teaches them about stealing as well as let them know there are treats to be earned. It can help switch them on, especially if the dog is food motivated.
You need two types of treats, an average treat (Plain Dog Biscuit) that your dog likes and a super treat (Dried chicken or cheese) that your dog likes but only gets on certain occasions.
Put one treat in each hand, making a note of which is in which hand.
Show your dog the average treat on the palm of your hand. If any attempt to snatch/grab the treat close your palm, but do not snatch it away. Maintain the same position in front of the dog.
Please don’t open your fist until they look away or show the desired behaviour, such as looking at you. When you get a positive result reward with the super treat.
The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate good behaviour gets them a better reward.
After a while and you are getting a consistent outcome, lower your hand with the average treat. You are showing that the position of the treat is irrelevant; the dog can’t have the treat by snatching. Lowering the treat changes position but also add another element to the game. Some dogs believe that food closer to the floor is theirs, or they have more of a claim to it. At this point, it is beneficial to introduce the clicker. When the dog relaxes and shows the positive behaviour click then give the treat. The benefit is with a clicker; you can target the precise moment you see the desired outcome; increasing the speed, your dog realises the effect that is needed to get the treat.
Once you are achieving consistent success, you can move to the third stage.
From there, use super rewards in both hands and teach the dog, he can leave delicious things, and if they do, rewards are received.
You can continually develop the game. Here are a few suggestions.
Move your hand up down side to side, with the treat on show, only closing your hand it a snatch is attempted. Always click when you get a desirable outcome and give a reward.
To give variation, once treats are mastered change the object. I have worked with dogs obsessed with a tennis ball. You can utilise this obsession in training, but you want to stop snatching. Just substitute treats for a tennis ball. Use your imagination to develop this further.
A few pointers when playing this game.
Be faster than your dog; you need to close your hand before your dog gets the treat or you are just training your dog to steal faster.
As you change and develop the game be prepared for the dog to regress and try snatching again as they may believe the game is over. Changing the game teaches that it isn’t just a game with treats. Your dog learns it steals nothing.
Two commands that will help your dog with overcome impulsive behaviour.
“Leave it” and “Stay” are two actions that I believe you should teach your dog in basic dog training. They are commands that when obeyed can save your dog’s life. These are Stay and “Leave it”. (Coming Soon)