Teaching self-control

24 Jan

Two months ago we realized that Ava had gotten a little spoiled: she got everything she wanted with very little work on her part. Partly she charmed us and partly we just let it slide (it happens to the best of us when life gets hectic). Fortunately we caught on to the error of our ways before it became a problem and I came up with this list of games, behaviors, and practices to help Ava develop self-control and frustration tolerance.


Look at that face… Can you blame us?


I work to cultivate a culture of politeness with my dogs and these behaviors encourage that. These are not intended to inhibit the expression of behavior or stop the dog from being a dog; think of these behaviors as “please”, “thank you”, and “may I?” I firmly believe in letting dogs be dogs as long as they follow the household rules!

  • Default Sit/Wait to get resources: meals, outside, out of a crate/car, petted, treats, toys, play, cuddles, etc.
  • It’s Yer Choice: beginning with food and working up to toys, people, environmental reinforcers, etc; this is similar to Doggie Zen or Leave It but with It’s Yer Choice there’s no cue and instead it becomes a default behavior. Get the free ebook at the link above, you can always unsubscribe from her emails later.
  • Dog being annoying? Teach Enough! I’ve found this to be incredibly effective even for demand barking
  • Crate Games DVD or see it in action on YouTube; you can build It’s Yer Choice into this
  • Dr. Overall’s Protocol for Relaxation
  • Put relaxation on cue: watch this video from KikoPup, or read Control Unleashed or the Ahimsa Dog Training Manual
  • Look at That! from Control Unleashed (Leslie McDevitt) teaches dogs to calmly notice things in their environment
  • Mark & Move from BAT (Grisha Stewart) is similar to Look at That but builds on it with the second step of disengagement from the trigger; also differs in that the dog gets two reinforcers: increased distance from the trigger plus food
  • Go to Mat: give you dog a job and a safe place all at the same time, plus you can use stationing later in conjunction with other behaviors (i.e. polite greeting, dinnertime manners, etc)
  • Give: give me the thing in your mouth
  • Drop It: drop whatever is in your mouth
  • Leave It: don’t interact with that
  • Off: get off of that/them
  • Wait: stay there for a few seconds
  • Basic obedience (sit, down, stand, stay, loose leash walking)
  • Polite greetings for people and for dogs
  • Play the games they want to play (tug, fetch, etc) but play by your rules. Ava loves to play fetch and will run up to me with her latex dragon toy. I take hold of it and say “Give”; she has 5sec to give it to me, otherwise I ignore her. When she does give I praise and sometimes immediately toss the toy for her to chase. Usually I’ll hold the toy away from me and wait for her to make eye contact with me before I toss it.If she ever puts teeth on me, even by accident, I instantly end the game and withhold the toy until she’s calm for 5sec.
  • Enforce timeouts and have a timeout area prepared. We use an x-pen that has a bed and a couple toys in it. I put Ava in timeout when play is ramping up too much or when she ignores Wally’s cutoff signals. Timeouts should only last as long as it takes for the dog to settle into a calm state.
  • Exercise! A daily walk plus a daily training session goes a long way towards making a puppy/dog easy to live with. Do note that I don’t mean exhaustion — too much exercise can do more harm than good, especially for puppies.
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Posted by on January 24, 2017 in Training


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