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Definition of impulse control
Impulse control is the ability not to act on an impulse. The impulse can be an innate reflex or a spontaneous action. Impulse control in dogs means that the dog can control its actions and emotions.
Impulse control is like a battery and muscle at the same time. An exercise can only be practiced a few times in a row because the battery is exhausted for the time being. This also applies to the rest of the day. The ability to concentrate decreases and the dog is not patient. Maybe you know this from yourself: You have a very intense day at work or school. In the evening you can't even concentrate on the lightest things. Your battery is exhausted and needs to be recharged - preferably by sleeping. The same goes for your dog. After a lot of impulse control and mastery, the battery needs to be charged. If it is not loaded, your dog will find it difficult to do banal everyday things. Difficult situations are hardly manageable and very stressful for your dog when the self-regulation battery is empty. The battery can be improved the more impulse control is practiced. The impulse control in the dog is z. B. important when calling back. The dog must learn to resist an impulse by coming back to you instead of chasing after the rabbit. Without us humans, the dog would follow most impulses as it pleases. Impulse control in dogs is not only important for the coexistence of humans and dogs, but also for the coexistence of conspecifics among themselves. Impulse control is social behavior. A dog's temperament is positively influenced with trained impulse control and rules as well as rituals.
The dog's impulse control is therefore self-control, which must be practiced in small steps. Impulse control is situational and cannot be generalized. It is good to train impulse control like a muscle so that the dog can remember it better in serious situations and to support the dog through management.
"Control of immediate relationship activity, restraint, sometimes thinking, and possibly defending oneself successfully against a need that is currently arising, is one of the essential prerequisites for being able to live successfully with other social partners or with other social partners" - p. 140 , Ganslosser, U. & Kitchenham, K. ; 2015
Factors affecting impulse control in dogs
Impulse control ability in dogs is influenced by several factors. While one canine friend may be extremely patient or obedient in a given situation, another may have trouble exhibiting the desired behavior in similar circumstances. Influences of genetics, but also rearing have an impact on impulse control and are also influenced by background stressors (illness, increased stress, etc.). The following factors can have a major impact on a dog's impulse control ability:
Impulse control and physique of the dog
You may have noticed this subconsciously: Large or bulky dogs find it easier to control impulses than small dogs. The small dogs are then called “barkers” derogatorily. In fact, due to their physical condition, they usually find it harder to control their impulses than large dogs. It's not about being overweight, it's really about physique. A small and slim physique usually has a higher metabolism, which can lead to weaker nerves.
The influence of age on impulse control ability
Impulse control is strongly age-dependent. Puppy age and the young dog period are particularly difficult phases of life when it comes to impulse control. Large breeds take longer to develop than small breeds, which is why their development in young dogs takes longer. Development affects brain development and the areas responsible for impulse control. A puppy or pubescent dog cannot control itself in the same way as a full-grown adult dog.
Breed differences in impulse control
In addition to the optical characteristics that make up a breed, skills and behavior are decisive in breeds. Breed traits that have been meticulously bred into dogs for centuries have a major impact on impulse control ability. Within a breed, the working line can be geared towards strong stimulus pursuit. The impulse control in the dog is not only dependent on the breed, but also on the breeding line. Dog breeds bred for quick and snappy decisions, like terriers, generally have a harder time with impulse control than molossians.
Stress reduces impulse control ability
The ability to resist an impulse depends on the general experience of stress. You may have found yourself reacting to stressful situations in a way you don't usually do. You snap at someone even though you don't want to. Or you get louder even though the person didn't hurt you. Stress affects impulse control in humans and dogs. Stressed dogs have the same problem as humans. Stress in dogs negatively affects impulse control. If your dog is stressed, it will be difficult for him not to follow an impulse and to withdraw. Stress can be health-related, such as an illness or injury, or other factors, such as a construction site in front of the house. Good stress management and relaxation training can be useful before the actual impulse control training.
promote impulse control
There are a few tricks we can use to generally promote impulse control in our dog. Help includes intervention, good management, and impulse control training. You should always start with your dog with the measures, then plan a good management and finally start training.
Measures: nerve food
Before it comes to the actual impulse control in the dog, it makes sense to take measures before training impulse control. Self-control requires a lot of energy, which can be positively promoted by feeding, so-called "nerve food". For dogs that have impulse control problems due to breed or personality, a high-carbohydrate meal before training is sufficient. Miller et al (2010) showed with their study that dogs have an increased energy consumption when exercising impulse control. Dogs given a glucose drink were able to double their self-control. Carbohydrates that dogs tolerate well are potatoes, rice and pasta. Rice is often used for gastrointestinal problems because it is easily digestible and therefore well tolerated. For dogs who cannot tolerate gluten, millet, oatmeal and quinoa are good options, as are buckwheat, barley or amaranth. Just try out what your dog likes and what he tolerates. Carbohydrates are the energy source for the dog's brain. We distinguish between long-chain and short-chain carbohydrates. In contrast to humans, dogs need significantly less long-chain carbohydrates. In the case of long-chain carbohydrates, the individual "chain links" are split longer by the dog. As a result, long-chain carbohydrates are available longer in the dog's body, keep you full for longer and do not drastically increase blood sugar levels. Short-chain carbohydrates are readily available in the body and are ideal for "acute" situations in which nerve nourishment is needed.
Long Chain Carbohydrates
The body of long-chain carbohydrates saturated longer. This keeps them available longer throughout the day. Long-chain carbohydrates are generally suitable for a strenuous and nerve-racking everyday life.
- whole wheat pasta
Short-chain carbohydrates only fill the dog up for a short time. Your dog can process the short-chain carbohydrates more quickly, so they are available more quickly. The quick availability makes it particularly helpful to use short-chain carbohydrates in the form of treats for training sessions.
- some types of fruit (fructose)
- some vegetables
- Dairy products (e.g. cheese)
How many carbohydrates your dog can tolerate is very individual. A study by Erik Axelsson (2014 and 2016) examined the copy number of the gene AMY2B in dogs. This gene is related to carbohydrate digestion. Significant differences in the ability to digest carbohydrates within the same breed have been explored. In order for the dog to be able to digest grain well, rice, pasta and the like must be cooked long enough to be able to utilize the starch they contain.
Management: Positive experiences
Management in dog training prevents dogs from making mistakes. When, where and how do you train your dog? You always design a training situation in such a way that your dog can engage in misbehavior as little as possible. Every impulse check initially indicates stress for your dog. Sometimes this stress is high, sometimes small. In that sense, stress isn't a bad thing. When exercising impulse control, stress must not be added. In order for your dog to be able to train impulse control, you should only build up the training in a positive way. Start with uncomplicated exercises that your dog is already familiar with. Build up the exercises in small steps and create many opportunities for success. Use short units with a high probability of success. Food is great for training because it gives your dog post-exercise food, allowing for two positive experiences: reassurance from food and the nerve food mentioned above that it needs during impulse control. If your dog isn't very fond of food, then you can reach into the box of great treats and use cheese, sausages, etc.
Training: Exercises for impulse control in dogs
Impulse control can be excellently developed in the puppy and young dog period. Even older dogs can still learn impulse control and should do so regularly. Impulse control cannot be transferred to any number of situations, so it cannot be generalized, but a general structure can be very useful. Just because your dog is patiently waiting at the food bowl doesn't mean it won't be chasing a rabbit. Nevertheless, a well-trained impulse control in the dog ensures controllability in everyday life. In separate training sessions, we will explain how you can gradually develop and train good impulse control with your dog. Our impulse control training for dogs takes you to training for beginners, advanced users and professionals.
When training the Impulse control for beginner dogs have to do with patience in the form of feed release. The feed release takes place via the orientation to you by the Premack principle. Your dog can only get the food by working with you. Generalizing from the position "sit" not only teaches your dog signal security, but also that "sit" simply means "sit". The final treat count exercise teaches your dog that numbers have meaning in the context of the patience required of you. In addition, food motivation is built up, which works well for both food-loving and non-food-loving dogs. Because your dog gets every single treat, motivation is always high.
The exercises of Advanced impulse control begins with beginner training. The generalization of the "sit" position is now extended by more difficult external stimuli. Stimuli in the form of movement require greater impulse control from your dog. Your dog must be able to withstand moving enticements – very difficult, especially for breeds that are sensitive to movement, such as terriers. The bouncer exercise is good training for many areas of dog training. Every dog household should have rules. An important rule is that the dog doesn't rush out the door first. This rule has nothing to do with dominance or the claim to sole rule. The dog should remain considerate in contact with the human. Humans, in turn, must be able to conscientiously manage every situation, and that happens as soon as humans step outside the door first. The last exercise in advanced impulse control considers a recall under distraction. Instead of the distraction, your dog learns to follow your recall and that it must be observed in any case.
The Impulse control for professionals contains exercises for impulse control in the supreme discipline. This does not mean that they prevent your dog from chasing rabbits, but they create a very high level of acceptance in the dog not to follow an impulse and to exercise self-control. The first exercise is impulse control while walking on the leash. The lack of impulse control and a loose leash that has been incorrectly installed pose a challenge for most dog owners. Training how to stop an action is extremely demanding for your dog and should be built up meticulously and in small steps. Canceling an action requires a high degree of discipline and is the perfect prerequisite for anti-hunting training. Another impulse control exercise that breaks up an action and promotes signal control is throwing food with basic signals. The structure tempts dogs to misbehave and should therefore only be trained when they have particularly good impulse control in order to further promote it.
Impulse control training is essential in dogs. Every dog needs to learn and train self-control. With our exercises we show you how you can practice impulse control with your dog. Impulse control is very taxing for your dog. Concentration decreases with each impulse control exercise and makes all everyday situations where impulse control is required (e.g. dog encounters) more difficult.
On days when you train impulse control, you should create a quiet everyday life with many rituals. We advise you to avoid challenging situations for your dog on the training days.
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We are Lui & Paulina and dogs have fascinated us since we were children. After our first studies in sports and psychology, we decided to turn our passion into a profession and so together with our dogs Vito & Amalia, Vitomalia was created. The study of Dog Behavior Therapy and the canine science form the cornerstone of our expertise. We have all of our dog knowledge and more than two decades of experience in ours Online dog school put together for our community!