Doggy Training

Top tips and troubleshooting for impulse control

Impulse control, or self-control is useful in almost every situation, from calmly waiting to be hooked on the lead before going out for a walk (instead of jumping around) to patiently sitting for the food bowl, for the ball to be thrown or for the guardians attention. Impulse control is particularly difficult for adolescent dogs who are going through the teenage phase as their brain undergoes a big rewiring, so it may often feel like all those behaviours you took such care over training when your dog was a puppy have now disappeared. I promise you they haven’t. But in this blog we look at common behaviours that can become problematic and how we can support our dogs through these challenges.

Food Manners

Food manners can essentially be split into two categories... natural restraint around food, and a ‘leave’ command. Natural restraint is important for those moments where your dog is going to be quicker than you... for example, when you drop food off the worktop and your dog is sitting below waiting, or they have sniffed out an old McDonalds on a walk. Your dog could easily snatch these things quicker than you can say ‘leave’, therefore it is imperative they have some form of natural restraint and can control themselves.

To build this we can practice a ‘food manners’ exercise that doesn’t involve you saying a word:

  1. Hold a treat in a closed fist in front of your dog – they will likely lick and slobber all over your hand trying to get it. Let them.
  2. After a few licks, some patience from you (and probably a slobbery hand – sorry!) your dog will learn that it’s not working.
  3. They will likely pause in their attempt, and the moment their nose comes away from your hand mark with a ‘yes!’ and reward with the treat from the closed fist.
  4. Repeat. You will soon see your dog work out that mugging your hand doesn’t earn them a thing – coming away and showing restraint does!
  5. Make it tricker for your dog – they now not only have to remove their nose from your hand, but wait for them to step away, or sit down before you mark with a ‘yes!’ and reward.

Your dog now has some level of self-control around food, amazing! Now we start to think about adding in a ‘leave’ cue. We add in a cue when we would bet £20 that our dog would do the behaviour. So, when would put money on your dog not snatching the food out of your hand, start adding in a ‘leave’ cue (only say it once!) before marking and rewarding.

Then make it tricker – use your leave cue with a treat in an open fist, treat on the floor, treat in a bowl. Play around with it but always make sure your dog gets rewarded for controlling themselves – it’s a big ask of our impulsive teens!

Stealing Things

Stealing things can be a frustrating behaviour for humans to deal with (especially when it involves your favourite pair of shoes!) and it can often be very tempting to chase after your dog and grab things off them. However, this usually ends one of two ways;

Your dog either whizzes off to the end of the garden, and you follow at top speed, also known as the most brilliant game of chase ever invented! Or your dog starts to dread your approach because it means that the fantastic new toy they have found is being taken away. Cue your dog grumbling, growling, and potentially biting to keep you from taking it from them. Neither of these situations are ideal. So, how do we deal with our dogs stealing things?

We can work on building a ‘leave’ command (see food manners), but until that command is super solid, we might need to think about emergency techniques to remove our shoe from the puppy’s jaws!

Introducing the SAFE SWAP!

If we can swap our dogs stolen object for something even better then it will become super easy to take it from them. Find something your dog really loves and have it on hand for the moment your dog steals something. If your dog loves toys, you can run in the opposite direction (I know, seems counter-intuitive, but stay with me here!) dangling their favourite toy behind you and making exciting noises. Wow! What a super exciting new game! Way better than running off with a shoe!

If your dog loves food you can wander near them (remember – don’t chase!) and start bowling treats in front of them. When they drop the toy to chase the treats you can bowl a couple more in the opposite direction and pop the stolen object somewhere safe.


Humping is an often-misunderstood behaviour. When dogs hump it is rarely a sexual behaviour but is far more likely to be overexcitement or sometimes overtiredness. It is a stress relieving behaviour that dogs often display as a way of coping with the situation they are in. To identify the cause of the humping look at your dog’s body language combined with the situation they are in – this should enable you to identify the reason for the behaviour. Then we look at management, prevention, and distraction. With repetition, this should give your dog a new, calmer, response instead of humping.

For example:

• If your dog starts humping after about 15 minutes of play with other dogs, recall them after 10 and give them a calming exercise such as scatter feeding or loose lead walking.

  • If your dog starts humping when you come through the door, have a pot of treats ready in the porch and give them something else to do – straight to the garden for a scatter feed in the grass is a great calming exercise.
  • If your dog is humping objects in the evening, give them something appropriate to do, such as a stuffed kong or natural chew.

But finally, this is a behaviour that can come from many root causes, so if prevention, distraction, and calming exercises don’t work, always get hold of an accredited force free professional to help support you and your dog through this.

Jumping Up

Jumping up is a really common problem – particularly with those over exuberant teens who just want to say hello to everybody! The main problem we face when we try to stop jumping up is that it is often quite self- rewarding;

If the dog is asking for attention by jumping, they usually get it in the form of your reaction, your attention, or your hands pushing them off. This is where we face a problem because the traditional advice of ‘just ignore it’ often ends in an extinction burst where the problem gets worse before it gets better. This is essentially your dog thinking ‘But this always works?! Maybe if I jump higher she will see me?!’ At best this causes us to react as the jumping gets worse, at worst it could end in someone getting injured from over enthusiastic claws and teeth.

So, what do we do instead?

We give our dogs another mutually exclusive behaviour– a behaviour they can’t possibly do at the same time as jumping up. An easy example is a sit, but make sure you choose a behaviour that requires the dog to have four paws on the floor, and that they know really well.

So here is how it will work...

  1. Try and pinpoint the moments your dog is most likely to jump up and be prepared. For example, if you know that when you get home from work is prime jumping time, keep a pot of treats in your porch ready.
  2. Ask them for the decided behaviour (the sit) before your dog jumps up. You’ve got to be on the ball!
  3. Reward your dog whilst they are in the sit – this could be in the form of treats or with calm stroking and verbal praise, whichever your dog seems to
  4. Think about getting everyone in your household to practice this, followed by visitors to your house, and even strangers on the street who want to say hello to your pup.
  5. With repetition, the chosen behaviour should become automatic to your dog, as a way of asking for attention. Much nicer than having a Trigger for a pet.

When applying the following principles in specific situations, the dogs learn patterns and habits that can generalise and help them stay calm and manageable in all situations:

Identify what it is that the dog wants: that’s the reward. Depending on the situation, the dog may want to go out, your attention, food, a toy or playtime with another dog. Don’t forget there are also lots of things in the natural environment that can also be used as rewards.

What gets rewarded gets repeated; If jumping up to greet us gets attention (even if we are telling them to get down) he’ll do it again next time. Is there a way for you to avoid the behaviour from happening at all by rewarding the behaviour that happens initially rather than waiting for the jumping up?

Practice patience! Staying calm and composed is critical. Frustration and irritation will only contribute to the dog’s excitability and make it harder for him to calm down. We can’t ask the dog to slow down if we’re in a rush for results. Be prepared to spend the time that it takes for your dog to calm down.

Be consistent! Teaching is effective when we’re consistent. If one day we allow jumping and the next day, because we’re in our work clothes we no longer tolerate it, it’s confusing to the dog and a source of stress.

Look for opportunities to teach the dog calm and controlled behaviour. Think of the many great behaviours your dog does throughout the day that go unnoticed because we are fixated on teaching one behaviour. Think how difficult it is for your adolescent dog to do the right thing day in, day out and not get noticed!

Learning self control is particularly difficult for any adolescent mammal. We need to remember when bad choices are made that they are an opportunity for learning. Continually trying to suppress a behaviour or natural urge will only make your dog find ways of doing it when your watchful eye isn’t there. Dogs, like children, want to please, they want to live in harmony with other people in the home. Often underneath an undesirable behaviour is an emotion or a need that isn’t being met and if we can work together to understand what that is we can then support the behaviour.