Teaching our Canine Friends the Art of Self Control

  • By Kathy McRoberts
  • 16 Jun, 2011

Original article by Virginia Simpson, Unleashed Canine Obedience

We all need it! We get frustrated with others when they don’t exhibit enough of it. We also get really frustrated with our dogs if they don’t exhibit enough of it. But just like us, our pups have to be taught self-control. None of us come out of the womb with it unfortunately. It must be practiced routinely in order to be there for us when it is most needed!

I was doing a go-home session the other day with a young woman, her husband and their two young sons. One of the fun things we get to do at Unleashed is teach dogs how to move with their owners while off-leash, and at the initial go-home session with the owners, we have the dogs drag a 30 foot long line for safety until the owners are able to get the timing down with the commands and equipment. On this particular day, everything was going well, except that one of the boys could not help stepping on this bright blue long line that was dragging along after his dog. The first time, his mother kindly asked him to please be careful, “yes ma'am” he politely replied. But then it became apparent that he was intentionally stepping on the line. Her voice became a little more strained after the 3rd time and she had to actually pick him up at one point because he literally could not seem to stop himself from stepping on that line. You could tell that a part of him really wanted to listen to his mom, but there was another part of his brain spinning around that would just not allow him to let the long line pass by untouched. (The dog didn’t mind a bit by the way. Every time he got brought up short, he would turn and give us a look like, “it happens”.)

So, luckily your pup has a shorter learning curve than human children for the most part and even better news, you won’t have to pay for them to go to college! I think it is important to remember however that dogs have genetically preprogrammed drives and they do not tend to have the same morals and values that we do about things. For example, a dog will not lose a lot of sleep over the fact that they pooed in the middle of the kitchen floor. They just won’t; ever. They will, however, become concerned when they see that you are upset over the poo on the kitchen floor. So, we teach our pups to have enough self-control to only eliminate outside of our homes just because if makes us happy. They could really care less to be quite honest. Another time we would like to see our dogs utilize self-control is when our guests come to our homes for a visit. Having a dog jump on you as you are entering someone’s home can be a most unpleasant and unwelcoming experience for even the most avid animal lover.

Another extreme example for the need of self-control in our pups might be when your neighbor’s cat comes out and lays in their driveway; we need our dog to exhibit enough self-control that they will refrain from turning the cat into a chew toy. Again, the dog would lose no sleep on the moral implications of killing the neighbor’s cat if he is lucky enough to sink his teeth into it. That is what he was born to do! Hunt, kill and eat small annoying creatures!

All the commands we would teach our dog; come, sit, stay; all lend themselves to the art of self-control. Obedience commands can also help you gain leadership of your pup as you are controlling a major resource of your dog’s which is space. His space, your space, all space should be controlled by you in a way that your dog understands that you own everything, including him. How you do that without being all confrontational, is to utilize basic obedience cues to gain control of any given situation.

One of my favorite exercises in self-control is the place command. You can teach your dog to stay on a place mat for however long you ask them to and you will give your dog a chance to learn to calm their mind, even when chaos abounds around them. You will teach them how to focus on you and follow you, their fearless leader. I like to practice the place command with my dogs whenever I am watching television. I just have the mats, cots or blankets in front of the TV and whenever I am watching a show, I just have some of the dogs sit on the mats. You could potentially leave them on the place mat however long your show is on really. They are going to lie around anyway, so why not take that opportunity to control where that is happening. On top of which, you can validate watching some very poor television choices all in the name of dog training!

The Place command allows you to “crate” your dog without walls. This command does a number of things for your dog including help to establish a relationship between you built on trust and reliable leadership. By “placing” your dog, you are presenting a very clear message that you in fact are in charge and in control of your dog’s space, the space in the room and the space of anyone or anything else in the room. This is a big leadership move in the eyes of your dog. In addition to getting your leadership on, you are also helping your dog gain self-control. None of us come out of the womb with self-control. It is a learned behavior. So, when asked to sit on the place mat, your dog will either explode or they will learn how to settle themselves down under even the most exciting of times. (Most of them learn how to settle themselves!)

The “Place” can be a dog bed, a small rug, a towel, etc. It will be easier if the mat is large enough for you dog to stretch out on a bit. You can use different mats in different locations in the house. Your dog should learn that “Place” means go to the mat that I guide you to and stay there until I tell you to get off. Your dog is allowed to move around on the place mat and chew on a bone or toy, but they must remain on the mat at all times until you release them.

“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” - Charles C. Noble. The more you practice, the quicker it becomes a part of who your pup is.

For more information, please feel free to contact:

Virginia L. Simpson, CDT
Unleashed Canine Obedience, LLC
4955 Creek Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45242

Cincinnati Dog Knowledge Center

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