Teaching your dog impulse control is an important life skill that can help keep them safe and curb unwanted behaviors like darting out of doorways or jumping on people.
Impulse control means teaching your dog to wait for permission before engaging in a specific activity.
Many dog owners struggle with teaching their dogs to wait patiently, but with regular practice using the exercises listed in this article, your dog will become an impulse control champ in no time!
Signs that You Need to Teach Your Dog Impulse Control
Dogs are opportunistic creatures and if they can do something, it’s likely that they will, especially if that behavior is reinforced–whether knowingly or unknowingly–by the people in their lives.
What sort of behaviors indicate that your dog needs to practice impulse control?
- Darting out of doorways and car doors
- Jumping up on people
- Barking and lunging at dogs, people, and other triggers
- Eating everything off the ground
- Demand barking at you to play or give attention
- Throwing tantrums when they can’t meet other dogs and people
- Chasing small animals or other moving objects
- Pulling on leash
7 Exercises to Teach Your Dog Impulse Control
Most dogs will exhibit at least one of the behaviors listed above until they are taught otherwise.
The longer and more frequently a dog is allowed to practice a behavior, the more time it can take for them to break the habit.
By practicing the exercises listed below with regularity, your dog will eventually develop killer impulse control, earning more freedom in their daily life (and so will you!).
Pick one or two exercises to work on at a time and go for 10 to 20-minute training intervals.
Teach Your Dog to Wait at Doorways
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been on a dog walk and have seen a dog come barreling out of their house in an attempt to greet us.
I’ve seen the same at dog parks, where dogs will just leap out of the car and dart across the parking lot out of sheer excitement.
It terrifies me when I see this behavior because it is so incredibly dangerous. Your dog could easily get hit by a car, into a fight with another dog, or hurt someone.
There is a very easy fix to this behavior: Teach your dog to wait at all doorways.
Basically, if it opens and you can enter, it’s a doorway.
Teach Your Dog the Place Command
The place command is an essential skill that will teach your dog to settle down in any situation.
It gives your dog a job to do instead of the job they choose for themselves. It will help curb unwanted behaviors like:
- Jumping on people
- Getting into mischief at home
- Going ballistic when the doorbell rings
- Hanging out in the kitchen under your feet with sharp knives in your hand
- Begging at the dinner table
Put simply, “place” means “go-to-the-spot-I-tell-you-and-stay-there-until-I-release-you.”
In this command, your dog has no choice but to stay there. And they do it like it’s their job, because it is.
Practice the Art of Doing Nothing
This is such an easy practice you can do with your dog just about anywhere.
The concept is very simple: go somewhere with your dog and ask them to “place” or lie down. Set a timer for anywhere from 5-15 minutes (or even longer if you want!) and just do nothing.
This exercise teaches your dog to just chill while there are other things going on around them.
I practice this with Sitka outside of dog parks, near busy roads, and at parks with plenty of squirrels.
If you have a reactive dog, go slowly and start somewhere with few distractions, gradually building up to busier spots like the playground or outside of a dog park.
Teach Your Dog to Ask for Permission
A dog’s way of asking for permission is to give their handler eye contact.
Sitka and I practice this daily with thresholds/doorways, when we play, when I feed him, when I release him on off-leash trail runs, etc.
A super easy way to teach your dog to ask for permission is with this game:
- Take two pieces of their food and hold each piece in a fist in either hand.
- Ask your dog to sit or lie down.
- When your dog looks you in the eye, say “yes,” and reward from one hand.
- Repeat the game, switching hands each round.
- Once your dog understands the game, build the duration of their eye contact, increasing by a few seconds each time.
Your dog will likely sniff or paw at your hand in the beginning trying to get the treat. This is fine, just keep the fist closed and step back if you need to create space. Just be sure to keep them in the sit or down and be patient.
Teach Your Dog “Leave It”
“Leave it” is the ultimate impulse control skill and it’s a super important command for safety reasons.
There are a lot of toxic foods, plants, and creatures in nature that you want your dog to stay away from when you ask.
You want this command to be so solid that you can drop food on the floor and your dog will not touch it.
You want to be able to have your dog refuse food that someone gives them unless you give the OK.
Here are the basic steps to teaching “leave it”:
- Put your dog in a sit.
- Either put some food or treats on the ground in front of them, or hold some food in your hand near their face. If they go for the food, cover it up or make a fist and say “leave it.”
- When your dog makes eye contact with you, mark with “yes” and reward. If you chose to leave the food on the ground, give them a reward using a different piece of food from your hand.
- Pick up the food from the ground and repeat.
Once your dog understands the concept, you can increase the difficulty of the lesson by dropping food on the ground in front of them or rolling it across the floor. You can also do this with toys by making the toy exciting and then releasing your dog to come play.
Implement Structure at Home
Establishing structure and boundaries can be exceptionally challenging for humans, but dogs thrive on them.
If your dog is pushy, destructive, demanding, or has resource guarding issues, structure and rules are a must. They will show your dog that there are rules and they can’t just do what they want, when they want.
Think of it like a kid who wants to play video games before doing their homework. Most parents allow for play once the homework has been completed.
Here are some boundaries to set in the home:
- No furniture access
- No sleeping in bed with you
- Toys are put away
- Humans remain neutral around the dog and don’t constantly fuss over them
These can all be temporary while you’re showing your dog what is and is not acceptable behavior. Once they’ve earned the privileges, they can slowly be reintroduced.
Structured Dog Walks
Teaching my dog to walk nicely on leash without pulling was so worth the effort.
Not only does he not drag me around and pull me in every direction, I can be more aware of any triggers ahead and prevent reactivity.
When your dog walks in a heel, then they are paying attention to where you are and not to other things going on around them.
This is an especially beneficial activity for dogs with leash reactivity because you have better control over their actions.
On a structured dog walk, you are simply walking with your dog in a heel position, so this means that you are not letting them sniff and mark constantly, nor are you greeting other dogs (something I don’t ever advise).
Structured dog walks are actually quite tiring for dogs because they have to pay attention to where they’re walking. They’re especially great for high energy pups!