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Real-World Solutions to Dog Training Challenges: Impulse Control (Part Two)

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In Part One of this post on Real-World Solutions for Impulse Control, we explored a pawsitive approach to teaching your inquisitive canine polite-and safe- manners around an open door to prevent door dashing and described some training games to encourage Fido to take treats gently.

In this next installment, we will walk you through training polite manners for greeting others while on leash. It’s nice to have a best fur friend who is super friendly, but maybe not so nice when you’re out on a walk and she nearly pulls you over trying to go say “Hi” to every person and dog you pass along the way. Pulling on the leash and jumping up to greet are two more reasons that it’s important to teach our pups what we want them to do instead of giving into or ignoring their every doggy impulse. 

So, what’s a responsible pet parent to do? To recap from the previous post, we recommend a three-pronged approach:

  1. Reflect – First, unless your dog, another dog, or a person are in danger, stop and reflect for a moment. Consider maybe adopting a different viewpoint. After all, isn’t your buddy’s friendly enthusiasm one of the many reasons you appreciate him and find him so gosh darn cute?!
  2. Teach – Second, figure out what it is you want Fido to do (when he sees a friendly neighbor or a doggy pal, for example) and then teach him the skills he needs to do that. Rather than focusing on the behavior you want to stop, determine what it is you want your dog to do. If you had a magic wand, what would you wish for?  
  3. Manage – Lastly, where and when you can, manage your environment to help prevent your inquisitive canine from engaging in unwanted or unsafe behaviors. 

Now, let’s apply the concepts of reflection, training, and management to Greeting Other Dogs and People While on Leash:

Reflect – Some people enjoy the exuberance of their inquisitive canines. So why “fix” it? It’s up to you. It’s your dog, your household your rules. But for others, let’s say therapy dogs walking into a hospital, they do need to ace polite greetings to participate in the hospital program. “On the job” or not, a polite dog is one who is likely to be invited more places. 

Even at home, you might need Fido to be more composed in specific situations, such as when frail friends or family members stop by. When you’re out and about, a social, friendly dog can still sometimes appear off-putting when he is overly excited, squealing with delight and dragging his guardian towards the intended target! 

It’s nice for people and their dogs to share skills and clear communication under various circumstances, so why not take the time to learn together?

Teach – Being able to discriminate when it’s okay to greet enthusiastically and when it’s not goes beyond your average “trick,” but it is still a fun way to show off what your inquisitive canine can do!  

Once again, first decide what it is you want: In the case of greeting other dogs and people while on leash, you might want your dog to walk at a pace that matches your own (whatever that is), next to you, displaying a loose body, relaxed facial features, appearing friendly and not overbearing. Once you have a picture of nice greetings in your mind, take the time to teach your dog each of the skills you envision.

With this much excitement in the mix, you’ll need to break the training down into individual steps before putting it all together and increasing the difficulty level. So, what group of “approaching skills” are involved with greeting while on leash? 

  • There’s the leash walking;
  • Walking towards someone/another dog (where the person or animal is a high value reinforcer);
  • Checking in with the guardian (maybe eye contact or a response to their name) and finally;
  • Greeting appropriately:
    • For greeting humans, it could be Sit, Down, or four paws on the ground. 
    • When greeting other canine pals, using body language that is non-threatening and species specific is what we’re looking for. 

Now that you have your list of behaviors, you can start thinking about reinforcers to use as rewards. You can practice the list of approaching skills, individually at first, with no others around, in low distraction areas, using kibble, petting, and praise to reward. 

Once your dog is proficient at each step — you’ll know because he or she will start offering the behavior before you ask — you can then string the steps together in order. 

Next, you can work on the 3-D’s: distance, duration and distractions. Remember to add in distractions one at a time. Move gradually from easy to more difficult to help shape your dog’s behaviors (think kindergarten to doctorate – it’s a stepwise progression). A practical sequence over time might look like this: 

  • One familiar person, no dog, low distraction area (at home perhaps) 
  • A familiar person with a familiar dog*, low distraction area (*if your inquisitive canine is more excitable around familiar dogs vs unfamiliar, then change up the order so you tackle the easier task first) 
  • A familiar person with an unfamiliar dog 
  • A stranger with a familiar/unfamiliar dog 
  • Multiple dogs 
  • New locations 
  • Leash or no leash – Sometimes leashes change a dog’s demeanor and response, so again, choose whatever is easiest first, developing a strong foundation and build slowly.

Now, let’s revisit this whole scenario. If you are okay with it under certain circumstances, and it’s safe to do so, use greeting as a reinforcer! Ask your dog to do something first such as look at you or Sit. The reward is getting to pull you towards their friends to say, “hi!” Keep in mind, everyone involved, including other dogs, need to consent to this first — you want to avoid dog bowling! 

Taking a step away, for a moment, from greeting other dogs and people while on leash, what can you do if you do want your dog to jump on you (sometimes)? This is an easy behavior to put on a cue, such as ‘Hugs.’ In this specific circumstance, jumping on you serves as a real-life reward, in place of a treat. With consistency on your end of the leash, dogs can learn to discriminate when it’s okay to jump up for love and attention.

Manage – A final thought about managing overly enthusiastic greetings has to do with energy outlets and enrichment. Let’s say Fido relentlessly pulls on the leash towards people and/or pets during walks. It’s helpful to think about why your dog might be pulling. Is it always a matter of impulse control? What else might be going on? Maybe he is not getting enough mental and physical exercise between walks. Does he have adequate opportunities to engage in normal species appropriate behaviors such as sniffing and socializing? Interactive food toys, sports, and activities (work with your dog’s preferences), in addition to training, can help manage behaviors and harness excess energy in much more productive ways. 

Unleash the Love

Jumping up to greet and pulling on the leash are examples of where a dog might be overly excited and/or lacking impulse control. As much as we humans often find these types of behaviors annoying, they can often be endearing too. But, for safety’s sake, it’s best to teach our inquisitive canines to walk nicely on leash and greet others politely. We can and should help our dogs slow things down and take time to think before reacting in situations that involve their well-being and that of other people and pets. Just be sure to balance it out with ample opportunities for our dogs to be the adorable, goofy, impulsive and inquisitive canine companions we all know and love.  

Thank you for being an inquisitive dog guardian! Here’s to great greetings!

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