Teaching Your Dog Self Control

Levi C. Masuli

March 2, 2020

Dogs are creatures of habit. Even though experts say that dogs are capable of some level of spatial awareness and critical thinking, they are still very much driven by instinct. This is why it is necessary for dog owners to teach their dogs how to curb their impulses.

Some owners might say, "But I want my dog to be free!" Of course, we all want our dog to be happy and to get the most out of their lives. But without self-control, you are going to have to deal with behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, or worse, a dangerous and aggressive dog.

So how exactly do we teach them self-control?

Identify Sources of Excitement

First, you have to know what usually excites your dogs. Dogs can be excited by the littlest things, but there are things that arouse them more than the others. Most dogs go crazy during mealtime. Younger dogs tend to become incredibly excited the second that you touch their bowls. They can also become very excited when there are visitors around. Other sources of excitement are doors being opened, other animals or pets, and food being cooked in the kitchen.

Use Obedience to Calm Your Dog

Once you recognize these triggers, you then have to work on calming your dog every time they get too excited. The simplest way to get a dog’s attention away from the trigger is through commands. For example, you can ask your doggo to sit or lie down when they start to get fidgety.

If your dog still doesn’t know how to sit or lie down, then you can refer to our previous guides on basic training. It is crucial that they know these basic commands because otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to communicate with them directly and decisively.

Teach Patience By Waiting

If you want to communicate properly with your dog, you have to speak their language. You have to think in terms of reward and reinforcement. This is always the case, even when you don't notice it.

For example, if you give them food even after dashing across the room to get to their bowl, they will interpret the food as a reward for their behavior. In short, you have rewarded them for behaving improperly even if you did not intend to do so.

The trick, then, is to make them wait. Before laying down their bowl on the floor, look them in the eye and wait for them to calm down. Ask them to sit or lie down. If they ignore your command, leave them for a few seconds without giving them the food. Then, return and ask them to sit or lie down again until they obey.

Even after obeying your command, wait until you see their tail wagging calm down a bit. Eventually, they will learn that you will only give them the reward (the food) after they calm down.

Do this routine every mealtime or every time you see them show overly-excited behavior. For example, if you have a guest and your dog is too jumpy, don’t ‘reward’ them too soon by letting your dog greet your guest. Let them calm down first in a separate room or hold them with a leash and wait for them to relax. Only then can you let them be ‘rewarded’ by your guests’ attention.

This principle applies to a lot of contexts, such as when you are going out for a walk or playing in the dog park. Controlling their canine impulses is a matter of habit, so try to be consistent every time your dog is too enthusiastic to get what they want.

Make Your Dog Work for Your Attention

As we have already said, your dog considers your attention a reward in itself. This is why it is also necessary to make them work for your attention. Yes, it might break your heart to ignore your doggo, puppy-eyes and all, when they are nudging their head on your legs. But if you give them instant satisfaction with your attention, they will become needy and whiny, which can be cute but can also be undesirable at times.

To prevent this from happening, ask them to sit or lie down every time they try to get your attention. Give them attention only after they have obeyed your command. If you are busy doing something, simply ignore your dog. This will teach your doggo to be less demanding and will teach them self-control, too.

Self-control should become part of your dog’s personality. Unlike tricks which can be taught by simple repetition, self-control is a habit that can only be proofed by consistency. Make it a part of your everyday routine and you’ll see your dog become more well-behaved and less impulsive in no time.

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