Whole Dog Journal's Blog August 25, 2015

The Virtue of (Your Dog’s) Self-Control

Posted at 08:37AM - Comments: (6)

The more time I spend with dogs (my own and particularly other people’s), the more I think that promoting a dog’s self-control is the most valuable thing we can do to make him more enjoyable to be around, while preserving both his dignity and individuality. That sounds like a lot of new-age mish-mash, so let me explain.

I don’t like it when dogs jump up in greeting, or crash into me when playing with each other. It makes being with them unpleasant – to me, anyway, and maybe some of you. Making a lot of rough physical contact with us doesn’t seem to bother many dogs, probably because it’s something that many dogs do among themselves.

Also, I don’t want to have to struggle with my dogs physically, ever. I shouldn’t have to drag a dog somewhere he doesn’t want to go or physically restrain one from doing something he really wants to run toward or check out.

Bigger dogs are strong enough to hurt us (particularly if we are fragile due to age or previous injuries) by jumping up on us, knocking into us, or pulling us down. But even smaller dogs can injure us without meaning to by jumping up at the wrong time (a shelter dog gave me a nice shiner this way once, as I was trying to clip a leash onto his collar) or bolting after a cat when we look the other way while stepping off a curb.

It’s amazing to me, however, how many of my friends and family are in constant physical struggles with their dogs! Holding them back from rushing the door when someone comes in, blocking them with arms and legs from jumping out of car doors, pulling them away from forbidden items, and so on. In many cases, the owners will say, “I know I need to train him,” but I think they have to start with themselves! If it’s a good friend or family member, I try make them aware of how much wrestling they are doing with their dogs – many of them don’t seem to notice that they are even doing it! – and try to let them know there is a better way.

My training goal for my dogs and my foster dogs is to teach them to control themselves. There is a lot that goes into it, but it starts with teaching them basic behaviors (such as come, sit, and off), and rewarding them for doing these behaviors in the face of greater and greater distractions. It also helps immensely to use a bevy of dog-management tools – around the house, baby gates and tethers are my favorites – to help them from being rewarded for the wrong behaviors while teaching them the new ones.

So, for example, for the dogs who rush the door and try to run out or jump on someone who is entering the house, I have a baby gate set up in the hall doorway, about 12 feet from the front door. I can rely on the gate to keep a dog from either practicing the rude behavior or forcing me to grab him and pull him back. The gate also sets him up for success; he clearly can’t reach the door, so he has, in essence, “stayed back” and I can reward him for this as a tiny first step toward a self-controlled greeting. I can ask him for a sit on the far side of the gate, and if he complies, several rewards. If he can hold the sit while a person enters and is greeting with some enthusiasm, jackpot! Eventually, he should have the idea and the gate can be taken down intermittently and ultimately for good.

We have lots of good resources in the library of back articles that are available to current subscribers that can help people learn about teaching their dogs to have self-control. Here are just a few.










Comments (6)

I've never heard this phrase before--teaching a dog to control themselves--but in essence, we all know the concept and it is the key to a "perfect" dog. Self-control encapsulates all the envied behaviors: not chasing squirrels, not barking at people or their dogs, not running to the front door, not barking. It also includes the basic behaviors like sit, stay, etc. Thanks for explaining this concept and even giving an example. I've been training my Bailey to not bark when the doorbell rings and to wait while I answer it. She's made a lot of progress--now she only barks 1-3 times before she sees me and stops, then I tell her to sit. She needs to work on staying for the entire time while I retrieve a package or such, though. I also liked the point you made about making physical contact with your dog. This is how you know if your dog can control itself. Great article!

Posted by: teddjpb | August 28, 2015 4:23 PM    Report this comment

I have taught manners to every dog I've ever had and I wish people with small dogs would understand that good manners need to be taught to them, too. My neighbor has a Maltese and a Pom-Chi-Poo (yes, really!) that are both under 6 lbs. I have had torn stockings, muddy slacks and more from these very friendly, very nice little untrained dogs who are very often out without a leash. Plus I absolutely hate to be jumped on by any dog! I am working on teaching them to sit for a yummy treat every time they see me, so wish me luck!

Posted by: Cheyenne's Mom | August 25, 2015 8:37 PM    Report this comment

I work in a pet supply store where we allow our customers to bring their dogs in to the shop with them. I find it sad to consider how many regular customers say they 'could never' bring their dog in to visit because he/she's 'just so hyper ! / crazy / wild' - sometimes the dogs are still adolescents with excess energy that's not been channeled well, but just as often they're adult dogs with deeply-set bad habits.
I make a point of always complimenting the person with a well-mannered dog to let them know their training has paid off and been noticed : I know they appreciate feeling their dog is truly welcomed.
Our store has a small lending library with great books on topics like choosing the right animal for your situation/ raising a pup / adopting a rescue dog / benefits of crate training / the value of good natural nutrition, etc.
Having a dog who can accompany you to a variety of places and handle new experiences is so worth the effort , thought and time that goes into shaping them.
I agree that teaching dogs to learn how to be calm should be a crucial goal for dog owners - there's so much joy in knowing one's companion will lead a much richer life because they're invited & welcomed in so many more places.

I often tell people about your magazine/website & the inspiring and helpful articles they'll find .
Keep doing what you're doing !

Posted by: lynn sapp | August 25, 2015 8:06 PM    Report this comment

Absolutely!! I call this "Good Manners" and it is the most important thing that you can teach your dog (and your children! :-).

Posted by: Jenny H | August 25, 2015 7:38 PM    Report this comment

I worked a number of years ago for a lady with 4 Labs and 3 Jack Russells - when a car door opened, the whole pack poured in or out, over the top of you! One of the first things I taught my 2 subsequent, individual dogs was to wait to get in or out of the car until invited! Wait was also an important word, and both were good about it. I am currently dogless, as I had to put down the foxhound last year from the combination of a stroke and horse's kick to the head, but having dealt with and observed others' dogs behavior, self control will be high on the agenda for my next dog.

Posted by: Dibbit | August 25, 2015 4:41 PM    Report this comment

I like the treat in hand game for self control. Hold a treat in your hand, put hand near dog, and when dog goes for treat close your hand. Repeat until dog shows any sign of ignoring treat (looking at you, turning head away, backing up, sitting down etc). Then give dog a treat from the other hand. It doesn't take long for dog to learn this game and soon you can graduate to leaving hand open with treat in full view, or placing treat on ground. This game made a huge difference in helping my reactive terrier deal with other issues.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | August 25, 2015 10:12 AM    Report this comment

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