Spring Fever

Written by Tracie Nielson
founder | owner | president

I bet you’ve got the urge. Fact is, I know you do. You have the urge to open the windows in your home and get outdoors, all for the sake of that fresh, spring air! Right?! And your dog couldn’t agree more!

Everything is waking up and coming alive outside, and with it comes all sorts of new (or new again) smells, sights, and sounds. All of which can end up being very distracting to your dog, grabbing their attention from you and towards everything else. They too are eager to explore, dig, chase, search, and run. The melting snow is uncovering a goldmine of treasures, and your dog wants to find it first!

We get a lot of calls this time of year from people needing support dealing with challenging or negative behaviour, especially when they get outdoors with their dog. Spring time seems to uncover old behaviours that owners once thought were dealt with, or new unwelcome behaviours have formed. This may be your dog pulling fiercely towards a scent or object on the ground, high pitched barking and lunging at the sight of a squirrel, digging up the backyard, bolting a the sight of kids running or playing, or running through the house with muddy paws over light coloured carpets and jumping up on furniture. The dog will finish looking pleased with themselves; happy and innocent, however this is not the look on your face, is it?

There is a common saying that suggests no one notices manners unless you don’t have them. Well, this goes for your dog too. I think it’s easy not to notice ill manners in a dog during the winter when they spend most of the time indoors or when you go outside and everything is quiet. You run in to less people while out on walks, little critters are hiding in warm dens and nests, things are buried under the snow… However, once spring fever hits, manners – or lack of manners, is what shows up loud and clear. Hence it being the busiest time of the year for us.

So what are manners in a dog?

A well-mannered dog is respectful of you, others and the environment. He or she acts and responds respectfully, even amongst distractions.

Having this comes down to your dog having one thing: impulse control, which can also go by the names of patience, self-control or inhibition.

definition: failure to resist a temptation, an urge, an impulse; the inability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires, or the inability to not speak or act on a thought

In general, I don’t think we think about impulse control enough. Most problems or challenges people have with their dog is an impulse control problem, and nothing else. Having impulse control works itself into every single day.

If you want your dog to wait when they come indoors to have their paws wiped clean, or to lie down on an absorbent mat for 30 minutes until they are dry? The dog needs impulse control. Want your dog to stop picking up everything they find on the ground? Impulse control. Want to stop a dog from pulling on a leash? They need impulse control. Does your dog jump on you or guests? Only impulse control can fix it. Don’t want your dog to bolt through your screen door or out an open gate? Impulse control. Want your dog to be able to watch your child’s soccer game or join you on the sidelines at softball without loosing their mind over the travelling ball? Answer? Impulse control. Want your dog to be welcomed by anyone anywhere you go? Guess what’s needed? Yup. Impulse Control.

There are many ways to work on impulse control training, and the good news is working on it should be or become easy to incorporate in to everything you do every day.

Dr. Sophia Yin, one of my industry mentors, released a program in 2011 called “Learn to Earn” where she talks about how people can gain leadership by understanding a dog’s valued resource. A valued resource is anything your dog wants to have, such as attention, a toy, play time, food, etc. What you want to do is teach your dog a behaviour you find desirable (such as sitting, watching you, leaving something alone, or coming when called) gets the dog something they desire (that attention, toy, play or food). The dog learns that by doing something for you, they get something in return… a win, win!

What Dr. Yin is talking about is teaching your dog how to have impulse control. The dog needs to learn that they cannot just grab or do whatever they want, they can’t just act out on a thought, they instead need to pause, think, and respond in a way that we find polite and well-mannered.

You know what happens to a dog without impulse control? They usually have to stay home. They can’t join you or the family at many of the fun events that you likely envisioned taking your dog to when you first brought him or her home. They are usually difficult to leave with other people as they find your dog too difficult to look after; too much work. They don’t get walked enough because it’s embarrassing or uncomfortable to do so. And often, dog’s that lack impulse control are the one’s that end up being surrendered. To me, this is so unfair to the dog as this impulse control is 100% trainable.

Getting in to a class with clevercanines is a great place to train impulse control. It is the foundation of everything we teach and we work on it in one way or another in every single class. Without impulse control, we cannot move forward in class and you cannot reach your desired goals. It is something that needs to be practiced outside of class too. Class time is simply not enough time to teach your dog this important life lesson.

Our very unique dayschool was designed to focus on impulse control. Our daily one hour walk, structured play time (where we observe and teach safe and polite play etiquette), resting periods, group training, and one-on-one training focus, that every dog in our care gets, is all built around developing impulse control.

Here are some other great ways develop this skill in your dog, and it is a skill.

  • waiting for food
  • walking on leash, with dog at your side
  • practicing take it, leave it
  • teaching drop it
  • waiting before going up stairs, through a door, or getting in or out of a car
  • playing tug and asking dog to release the toy
  • fetch with commands inserted before, after, or in the middle of the toss
  • practicing sit, down, or stay for increasingly longer times
  • going to the bed or mat (when doorbell rings, guests arrive, or during a play session)
  • getting the dog to do something quick before going outdoors
  • playing hide and seek or ‘puppy poker’ (taught in core)
  • working on the ‘relaxation protocol’

There is no doubt that going outdoors involves dealing with more distractions. Practicing any of these above ideas will help to build the skill of impulse control. As the skill develops, it’s easier to manage other distractions, such as the many we will come across when outdoor.

Impulse control will make everything you do with your dog much easier and much more enjoyable.

Patience when it’s most important!