What is impulse control in dogs?

Definition 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 a muscle at the same time. An exercise can only be practiced a few times in a row because the battery is initially exhausted. This also applies to the rest of the day. The ability to concentrate decreases and the dog is not patient. Maybe you know this about yourself: You have a very intense day at work or school. In the evening you can no longer concentrate on even the simplest things. Your battery is exhausted and needs to be recharged - ideally through sleep. The same applies to your dog. After a lot of impulse control and mastery, the battery needs to be charged. If it is not charged, your dog will find it difficult to do banal everyday things. Difficult situations are almost impossible for your dog when his self-regulation battery is empty and are very stressful. The battery can be improved the more often impulse control is practiced. Impulse control in dogs is e.g. B. important when calling back. The dog must learn to resist an impulse by returning to you instead of chasing the rabbit. Without us humans, dogs would follow most impulses as they please. Impulse control in dogs is not only important for the coexistence of humans and dogs, but also for the coexistence of members of the same species. Impulse control is social behavior. A dog's temperament is positively influenced with trained impulse control and rules and rituals. 

Impulse control in dogs is self-control that must be practiced in small steps. Impulse control depends on the situation and cannot be generalized. It is good to train impulse control like a muscle so that the dog can better remember it in serious situations and support the dog through management.

“Control of immediate relational activity, restraint, sometimes thinking about it, and possibly successfully defending oneself against a currently strong need are among the essential prerequisites for being able to live successfully together with closed or other social partners” - p. 140 , Gansloßer, U. & Kitchenham, K. ; 2015

Factors that influence impulse control in dogs

The ability to control impulses in dogs is influenced by various factors. While one four-legged friend may prove to be extremely patient or obedient in a particular situation, another may have difficulty exhibiting the desired behavior under similar circumstances. Influences of genetics and also breeding have an influence 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 ability to control impulses:

  • anatomy
  • Alter
  • Breeds
  • Stress


Impulse control and dog physique

Maybe you've already noticed this subconsciously: Large or bulky dogs have an easier time with impulse control than small dogs. The small dogs are then derogatorily called “yappers”. In fact, due to their physical nature, they usually have a harder time keeping their impulses in check than large dogs. It's not about being overweight, it's really about your body type. A small and narrow body usually has a higher metabolism, which can lead to weaker nerves.




The influence of age on impulse control ability

Impulse control is highly age dependent. Puppyhood 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 takes longer during the young dog period. Development influences brain development and the areas responsible for impulse control. A puppy or pubescent dog cannot control itself in the same way as a fully grown adult dog.

Racial differences in impulse control

In addition to the visual characteristics that define a breed, skills and behavior are crucial for breeds. Breed characteristics that have been meticulously bred into dogs for centuries have a major influence on the ability to control impulses. Within a breed, the working line can be focused on strong stimulus tracking. Impulse control in dogs not only depends on the breed, but also on the breeding line. Dog breeds that were bred to make quick, snappy decisions, like terriers, generally have more difficulty with impulse control than Molossians.



Stress reduces the ability to control impulses

The ability to resist an impulse depends on the general experience of stress. You may have experienced yourself reacting in stressful situations in a way you don't normally do. You pick on someone even though you don't want to. Or you raise your voice even though the person hasn't done anything to 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 act on an impulse and to withdraw. Stress can be health-related due to 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 dogs. Help includes measures, good management and impulse control training. You should always start with the measures for your dog, then plan good management and finally start training.

Measures: Nutrition for the nerves

Before actual impulse control occurs in the dog, it makes sense to take measures before impulse control training. Self-control requires a lot of energy, which can be positively promoted through feeding, so-called “nerve food”. For dogs that have impulse control problems due to their breed or personality, a carbohydrate-rich meal before training is sufficient. Miller et al (2010) showed in their study that dogs have increased energy consumption when exercising impulse control. Dogs given a glucose drink were able to double their self-control. Carbohydrates that dogs tolerate particularly well are potatoes, rice and pasta. Rice is often used for gastrointestinal problems because it is easy to digest and therefore well tolerated. For dogs that cannot tolerate gluten, millet, oatmeal and quinoa are ideal, as are buckwheat, barley or amaranth. Just try out what your dog likes and what he can tolerate. Carbohydrates are the energy source for the dog's brain. We differentiate between long-chain and short-chain carbohydrates. In contrast to humans, dogs require significantly fewer long-chain carbohydrates. With long-chain carbohydrates, the dog takes longer to break down the individual “chain links”. As a result, long-chain carbohydrates are available longer in the dog's body, keep them full longer and do not drastically increase blood sugar levels. Short-chain carbohydrates are quickly available in the body and are optimal for “acute” situations in which nerve nourishment is needed.

Long chain carbohydrates

The body is full longer from long-chain carbohydrates. This means they remain available longer throughout the day. Long-chain carbohydrates are suitable for generally strenuous everyday life that strengthens your nerves.

  • Kings
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • potatoes
  • nuts
  • oatmeal
  • millet
  • Quinoa
  • buckwheat
  • barley
  • Amaranth

Short chain carbohydrates

Short-chain carbohydrates only fill the dog for a short time. Your dog can process the short-chain carbohydrates more quickly, so they are available more quickly. The rapid 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 
  • Honey
  • 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 AMY2B gene in dogs. This gene is related to carbohydrate digestion. Significant differences in the ability to digest carbohydrates have been explored within the same breed. In order for the dog to be able to digest grains well, rice, pasta, etc. must be cooked long enough 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 with your dog? You always design a training situation in such a way that your dog can misbehave as little as possible. Any impulse control initially indicates stress for your dog. Sometimes this stress is high, sometimes small. Seen this way, stress isn't a bad thing. When exercising impulse control, stress should not be added. So that your dog is able to train impulse control, you should build the training exclusively in a positive way. Start with simple exercises that your dog already knows. Build up the exercises in small steps and create many opportunities for success. Use short units with a high probability of success. Food is ideal for training because your dog receives it after the exercise, enabling two positive experiences: confirmation through food and the above-mentioned nerve nourishment that it needs during impulse control. If your dog is not fond of food, then you can reach into the bag of great treats and use cheese, sausages, etc.

Training: Exercises for impulse control in dogs

Impulse control can be developed excellently during the puppy and young dog years. Even older dogs can still learn impulse control and should learn it regularly. Although impulse control cannot be applied to any number of situations and cannot be generalized, a general structure can still be very useful. Just because your dog waits patiently at the food bowl doesn't mean he won't chase after a rabbit. Nevertheless, well-trained impulse control in dogs ensures controllability in everyday life. We will explain to you in separate training sessions how you can gradually build up and train good impulse control with your dog. Our impulse control training courses for dogs take 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 food release. The food is released through orientation towards you using the Premack principle. Your dog can only get the food by working with you. The generalization of the “sit” position not only teaches your dog signal safety, but also that “sit” simply means “sit”. The final exercise of counting treats teaches your dog that numbers have meaning in the context of the patience required of you. In addition, a food motivation is built up, which works well for both food-loving and non-food-loving dogs. Because your dog receives every single treat, motivation always remains high. 


The exercises of Impulse control for advanced users starts with beginner training. The generalization of the “sit” position is now expanded by more difficult external stimuli. Stimulation in the form of movement requires your dog to have greater impulse control. Your dog has to resist the temptation to move - this is particularly difficult for movement-sensitive breeds 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 in contact with humans in a considerate manner. The person, in turn, must be able to manage every situation conscientiously and this happens as soon as the person first steps outside the door. The final exercise in advanced impulse control takes into account recall under distraction. Instead of being distracted, your dog learns to follow your recall and that this must be adhered to in any case. 


The Impulse control for professionals contains exercises for impulse control in the supreme discipline. This doesn't mean that they stop your dog from chasing rabbits, but they create a very high level of acceptance for the dog not to follow an impulse and to practice self-control. The first exercise is impulse control while on the leash. The lack of impulse control and an incorrectly installed loose leash represent a challenge for most dog owners. Training to stop an action is extremely demanding for your dog and should be structured meticulously and in small steps. Canceling an action requires a high level of discipline and is the perfect prerequisite for anti-hunting training. Another impulse control exercise that stops 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 impulse control is particularly good in order to further promote this. 

Training impulse control is essential in dogs. Every dog ​​needs to learn and train self-control. With our exercises we will show you how you can practice impulse control with your dog. Impulse control is very stressful for your dog. Concentration decreases with every impulse control exercise and makes all situations in everyday life where impulse control is required (e.g. dog encounters) more difficult. 

On days when you train impulse control, you should have a quiet everyday life with lots of rituals. We advise you to avoid challenging situations for your dog on training days.

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