Can You Teach Your Puppy Self-Control?

Samoyed at the beach calmly looking at balancing rocks

Every one of us can relate to that rush-of-excitement feeling a puppy has when experiencing things for the first time. And even if they are experiencing it for the eighth time. Life, it is exciting! Especially to a youngster. Some dogs grow out of their puppy thrills and some dogs don’t. It truly depends on how a puppy shows his or her excitement. If it’s over-the-top, non-stop and it gets in the way of training, then yeah, that’s a problem. But, is self-control something you can train a puppy?

What Is Self-Control?

Honestly, self-control is just a different way of saying impulse control. This is particularly true when it comes to a puppy. Some dogs are born with it, some are not. It’s our job to help them learn self-control, or, impulse control. Really, not much different than with a human baby. You’ll know if your dog has an inner system of self-control by watching his/her face. Does your pup’s face remain relatively calm when confronted with exciting things? Is s/he patient when knowing they are going to get a treat, a meal, or something that they really want? If so, your puppy likely has good self-control.

Can Lack of Self-Control Be A Problem?

You bet it can! Self or impulse control often plays a key role in your dog’s safety as well as acceptance in social situations. If a puppy doesn’t learn self-control before adulthood, s/he can develop behavior issues. Like chasing after bicyclists than peddle by your house, or barking at passing by cars and buses while out on a walk. This could be very dangerous. Also, dogs with low self-control can become jumpers and pounce all over guests when they come to visit. While not dangerous, it’s not likely to get your dog invited out to social gathers.

Indicators of Self-Control

If a puppy is the only one in a liter or separated from other puppies, s/he may have self-control issues. Dogs tend to learn a bit about self-control through socialization with other dogs. In puppies, the more they play with one another and keep each other in check, the better. For example, a rambunctious puppy who is a little too rough and gets overly-stimulated during playtime often learns his or her lesson when the other puppies nip to say, “enough is enough, Buster!” Because the puppy wants to play, s/he learns, over time, that playing too rough has consequences with packmates - and starts to exhibit self-control in order to get rewarded with the thing s/he wants… Playtime! It’s one of the reasons why you don’t want to bring home a puppy from his pack too early.

Is Self-Control Something You Can Train A Puppy?

You bet it is! But it will require you to exhibit self-control too. Most people unknowingly react with joy when their puppy is all stimulated, jumping and barking, excited to get a treat, a meal or the thing they want. We squeal with delight, I mean just look at him/her - too, too cute! It’s not until a dog reaches early adulthood that we realize that we should have taught our puppy some better manners. There are some key things that you can do, right away, to help your puppy learn that self-control is a good thing.

Rewarding Calm

Here are some key ways you can help your dog learn self-control, and they all involve rewarding their calm behavior.

  • Feeding your dog only when s/he is calm. Allowing a dog to get and remain all worked up around meal teaches them that it’s okay - they get rewarded with food! Only give your dog their treats and meals when they are calm. Make sure your puppy sits while you prepare meals. Keep your back to him/her and only turn around with the food when s/he is sitting and calm. This could take time, but remember… You have what your dog wants most in the world! Continue to have your dog sit while you bring the food to their feeding area. Do not let your puppy jump to get the bowl, etc., If that happens, pick up the bowls and turn your back to your dog and repeat the session all over again. Your puppy will get it - promise!
  • Walk your dog only when s/he is calm. Puppies learn to love to go for walks. It gets them outside and with you - what’s not to love. This is a time when a puppy can learn to jump, wiggle, and bark. What you want to do is the same as in the feeding example above - however, you want to exchange your puppy’s leash for the food. Only connect your dog’s leash when your puppy is sitting and calm. And don’t get all excited as you walk outside - remain calm. You can encourage your puppy to remain calm by only taking steps outside of your front door when s/he isn’t pulling, lunging, barking, etc. Have your dog sit if there’s a break in his/her calmness. Reground and reconnect their brain with learning through the sitting command.
  • Teaching calm behavior gets rewarded. This one is a little different, but it does work well. With your dog on a leash, keep your puppy by you - whether you are inside or outside doesn’t matter. You can be talking with friends, or whatever you normally do. The goal is for you to stay still and not walk, thereby keeping your dog directly by your feet. Once your dog settles down and sits, give him/her a treat and soft praise. This type of training teaches your dog that they get rewarded for sitting by your feet in a calm manner. Sooner or later, they’ll be doing it quite frequently.

A Puppy With Self-Control Is Always Welcome

When a puppy develops consistent self-control they are often the most popular dog at outdoor restaurants, dog-friendly coffee shops, or any other place that welcomes dogs. self-control is easy to incorporate into your puppy’s training, no matter what time of the day or night you regularly train, and is something that should be worked on daily. As we always say: small steps each day go a long way in large gains!

Rebecca Sanchez

Rebecca Sanchez lives in Seattle with her husband and three dogs and is a published author, and nationally recognized leader in the pet industry. Known as The Pet Lifestyle Guru™ Rebecca firmly believes “we need animals as much as they need us!” Rebecca specializes in researching and writing about holistic dog health and nutrition, and develops DIY recipes designed to enhance a pup's well-being.

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