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Teaching impulse and self-control – Karen Phillips

Dogs running2_webJust as dogs come in all shapes and sizes, they also come with wide and varied personalities.  Their temperaments are often influenced by their breed’s natural instincts but even dogs of the same breed have their own unique behaviours and quirks.

Some of us love dogs to be a little crazy.  I’m one of them!  That’s because a little bit of crazy normally makes for a pretty awesome agility dog.  The majority of people like their dogs laid back and calm but that type of canine personality seems to be less common.  If you do end up with a little more crazy than you were hoping for, you can still have a well behaved and calm dog by teaching it impulse and self-control.

Busy, active dogs love to do things like charge through doorways, demand attention, demand food, jump up on people, jump on the back door to be let in, go nuts when it’s time to go for a walk, whine to demand what they want, not giving the ball or toy back, and the list goes on.  The problem is that, for most of us, when our dogs do these things, we immediately give them what they want.  All this does is reward the behaviour and encourage them to do it every time they want that thing.  Think about it, if you got everything you wanted just by demanding it, why would you ever bother to say please or thankyou?  What we need to do is teach our dogs that they have to “say” please and thankyou when they want something!

The key to getting rid of unwanted behaviours is to understand what it is that the dog wants and then control access to it.  For example, my dogs love to go for their nightly run around our property.  In anticipation, they run around the backyard whining and barking and generally acting like idiots.  When they get to the gate to have their leads on I always insist that they must sit and be calm.  If they don’t sit calmly while I’m clipping leads on I stop and wait.  They can act as silly as they want but I will not attempt to put leads on until I get the calm sitting behaviour.  I never waste my time telling them off and yelling.  I simply let my actions do the talking!  It’s amazing how quickly they learn when there are consequences to their behaviour.  If my dogs had their way they would just charge through the gate as fast as physically possible and off down the track.  However, they each have to wait in a sit until I have gone through the gate first, then they have to wait in a sit until I release each one individually.  If they don’t sit and wait I shut the gate.  If they do sit still, I hold the gate open and say their release word.  It’s their choice, and the consequence of not getting what they want if they make the wrong choice is enough to make them want to get it right!

Whenever playing these games it is so important to be patient.  If you let the dog rush you or you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, just take a deep breath, remain calm and slow things down.  If you get wound up it will only cause the dog to wind up more and even if it’s getting dark and you need to get the dog walked, take the time to enforce the rules.  It may take you a while for the first few days but it will get quicker once the dog knows that only calm behaviour gets it what it wants.

Don’t forget the importance of consistency.  Using this sort of training with your dog will only work if you are consistent.  Your dog will only become confused if the rules of the game change each day and it can even create anxiety when the dog never knows what to expect from you.

Dog training 3_webYou should always be looking for opportunities to get your dog to practice impulse control around the house.   This includes sitting and waiting for permission to eat dinner, sitting and waiting to go through doorways, waiting for permission to get in the car or getting in and out of the crate.  If your dog paws or whines at you for attention ignore it until it sits and is quiet.



Karen and RiotKaren Phillips is the owner and trainer of Riot, the beautiful Border Collie that is the Better Pets and Gardens mascot.  Karen has had immense experience and success with her dogs, all border collies except for Cassie, the very fast papillon, and is currently involved as a trainer with the Agility Club of WA.  Karen is also a regular expert on our Facebook page every Monday night.

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