It's a beautiful day, the sun is out, there are no clouds in the sky and a gentle breeze blows. Perfect.
You are in your backyard with your dog walking through the grass in bare feet. You connect with your dog and get ready for the first obstacle. The tunnel. That's right, it's summer and you are in your yard playing some agility. There is nothing else like it! Your dog finds the obstacle and pummels through it! Success! You are two separate beings but connected as one through this amazing dog sport.
Then there is “Dad”, the definition of fun. Dad sets no boundaries or rules. Dad is awesome! and he is walking up the drive way coming to say hello. The connection is broken. Your dog races for Dad, he just absolutely has to say hello with his whole being. He throws himself at the gate and the gate swings wide open. Then there is no Dad, only the whole world at your dogs disposal. Everyone freezes for a split second afraid to move or say anything. Until your Doberman is racing down Chebucto Road heading for the Armdale Rotary.
My name is Amanda (see bio here) and this is a true story. I am thrilled to say Henry was collected safe and sound. Henry is my two year old Doberman Pinscher who has a certain zest for life. He believes everything in life is good and has so much enthusaism for life joy just radiates from him. However, this could have been my boys very last run, it was a life or death situation. I put him in immediate danger simply by not teaching him impulse control. His life could have ended at one year of age due to my negligence of teaching him a life saving skill.
Quite literally, impulse control is self restraint to keep yourself, people and other animals safe. Dangerous impulses can include biting, bolting into a dangerous area, eating foreign objects (which happens to be Henry's claim to fame) and over zealous play. Common impulses we see are rushing through doorways, jumping out of the car before you grab a leash, leash pulling, charging at other dogs, jumping on people and counter surfing. These may seem like minor behavior problems to some but can be dangerous if your dog pulls on his leash and you slip on ice, pulls on their leash towards a fearful or reactive dog, steals some chocolate off the counter, eats a blanket and requires surgery (ahem, Henry...) or bolts out of the car on a busy road.
Impulse control is near and dear to my heart and has saved Henry many times.
It is an important skill to teach all dogs but a special emphasis is needed for more spirited or enthusiastic dogs. The goal with self restraint is not to squash the dogs energy or spirit, but rather channel it to more appropriate activities. The key is building value (through fun and rewarding exercises) to be with their people and to perform behaviors that contradict impulsive behaviors (counter-conditioning).
Stay tuned for part two: impulse control exercises.