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Self-control: the key to canine freedom

28 Aug

Talk about impulse control!

The Kitsap County Fair always has police demos where they show off their drug dogs and police K9’s. Normally we miss them, but this year we happened to be in the right place at the right time. In the above photo the “bad guy” is daring the dog to bite his arm (obviously a real bad guy wouldn’t do this unless he was hiiiiiiigh!). In spite of having his very favorite thing in the whole world (the sleeve) dangling in his face, the dog resists the urge to bite and patiently waits for a command. This is self-control. This is what training is really all about!

A dog without self-control is a dog without freedom. Do dogs that hump legs, jump up, pull on leashes, run away, steal food, or chew Louboutins have a lot of freedom? Nope. Those dogs live a boring life, never leaving home and getting shut in the spare room when guests arrive.

Wally is one of those high drive dogs with SO MUCH TO DO. He is a terrier, after all! Without guidance he could easily swerve out of control, freedom stunted by a lack of impulse control. But no dog is actually born with self-control, it must be learned. Even humans aren’t born with self-control! So it’s only fair that I teach Wally how to control those urges to run, chase, rip, bark, lunge, whatever. Somebody has to!

There are tons of good resources out there for this very skill.
Pat Miller’s book The Power of Positive Dog Training
Karen Pryor: How to train a “crazy” dog
Flying Dog Press: Guidelines for teaching self-control
Dog Scouts of America: Teaching self-control (teaching a well-behaved greeting)
Dee Ganley: Lowering arousal (the chill out game)

Just one of the things I’ve focused on with Waly is an informal “chill” behavior. Basically if he gets too excited I stop engaging and ignore him completely (if teeth were involved I emit a quick and sharp “yip”). If you saw me doing this I might look like I’m too stuck up to play with my own dog, nose in the air as I stare at the ceiling. Wally gets this silent treatment when he gets too wound up or too mouthy, even if it was an accidental tooth touch.

The first couple times I did this there wasn’t much effect. Wally would keep playing by himself and just be on his merry little way. But it didn’t take long for him to realize that playing with me is WAY more fun than playing by himself, and now if I “yip” or stop engaging he’ll lay down and wait for me to re-engage. Perfect!

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