Do We Expect Too Much From Our Dogs?

Chocolate covered pretzels.

The test of my impulse control.

What was he thinking?

Did my husband really expect me to work at home all day with chocolate covered pretzels sitting right on the counter? And that he could have one left when he got home from work?

Just how much impulse control does he expect me to have?

I guess as much as we expect from our dogs.

Testing a Dog’s Impulse Control

I heard it before I saw her. “Sit. C’mon girl, Sit.”

I looked up from locking my bike to see an adorable hound mix excitedly greeting everyone who came out of the store.

Her people obviously loved her. Before ordering their own lunch, the man went inside to get water for his pup. Then his wife stayed outside with the dog while her husband went in to grab lunch.

Each person who entered or left the store caught the pup’s notice as she pulled and whined, wanting to greet everyone.

Over and over, her person tried to contain her enthusiasm by telling her to sit.

But it was a losing battle. Because the couple chose a table right beside the door.

The poor pup never had a chance to calm herself. It was lunch time. And people were entering and leaving every few seconds.

I wondered. Would the dog have contained her excitement more if they had sat a few feet farther from the door?

Chocolate lab looking at treat.

There’s more than one way to test a dog’s impulse control.

Learning About Impulse Control From Honey The Love Slut

I watched the friendly pup for a few minutes. Her love for everyone who walked by reminded me of Honey.

Honey is the first dog I’ve lived with who loves everyone. My first dogs, Agatha and Christie, defaulted to barking at every new person. My next dog, Shadow, ignored everyone.

Honey is everyone’s love slut.

Honey the Golden Retriever sits in MIke's lap at the side of the creek.

Love me. Love me.

Over the past four years, we’ve worked on building Honey’s impulse control. That means she could probably sit beside that door and remain calm-ish. But even now her impulse control relies on a few factors, including her

  • age
  • energy level that day
  • proximity to something that also interests her, say food
  • experience

and, perhaps most importantly, just how tempting the person in front of her is. Some people are irresistible enough to turn Honey, even on her best day, into a fuzzy pile of quivering jelly with a floofy tail.

So much for impulse control.

Honey the Golden Retriever worships her ball.

Throw it. I can’t wait a single second longer.

Improving Impulse Control

When Honey was a puppy, we didn’t expect too much from her. She wasn’t able to control herself much around people until she turned one year old.

We also built up her skills over time.

If we had been eating lunch at the store with Honey as a young pup, we would not have chosen a seat beside the door. We would have been expecting too much from her.

I think the friendly hound mix pup’s people expected too much from her.

If they asked me, which they didn’t, I would have suggested

  • taking her for a walk in the park across the street
  • choosing a seat farther from the door
  • and bringing a handful of yummy treats.

As for my husband who left yummy, chocolate treats on the counter? Yep, they were still around when he got home. I put them in the cupboard. Nothing like hiding things to improve impulse control.

And if the next time you meet Honey she tries to jump into your lap while you’re still standing up? She doesn’t have bad impulse control.

You’re just irresistible.

Your Turn: What is just too big a temptation for your dog? And how do you manage impulse control?

photo credits: (chocolate covered pretzels) Vegan Feast Catering via photopin cc. (tempted lab) vanderlaan.fotografeert via photopin cc. Click on images to learn more about the photographers.

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  1. We are working lots with Bailie. She is a people lover too, but after lots and lots of practice she seems to be learning to contain herself. Next project, not going wild at seeing a wabbit or squirrel. Mom doesn’t believe in avoiding problems. We carefully confront them over and over until we master them. We do believe in not going heavy on the temptation until we are ready to handle the challenge.

  2. Very good point. Too much is expected of dogs too often, i think. And what does it take to improve it? Patience. Lots of patience. With some, more than with others.
    Really love that “Love Slut” nickname!

  3. I cannot stop laughing at “love slut!”

    My girl has pretty good impulse control sometimes. My boys-forget about it.

  4. Mike Webster says:

    From the Husband:
    All right, where did you hide the chocolate pretzels!!?

  5. We work a LOT in impulses control. Giant breeds don’t mature until at least three years of age. People aren’t very understanding when a 100 pound dog is squirming around with excitement. Understandable. I know my dogs’ threshold on an average day. I know how far we should sit or stand from a person so it will be challenging, but not impossible. We end a lot of time sitting at restaurants in a far corner so we can practice :)

  6. Okay, gotta tell you – love the term “love slut” so appropriate for Harley as well. If I could just get him to contain himself at the front door, I would be FURever grateful. He is such an ambassador of welcome. I’ve got to get better with the jumping so people can at least get in the door before being attacked by the “love slut” BOL. Great post, thanks…

  7. Any meat left around for my dog would drive him crazy. It was always important to pack it away quickly so he didn’t succumb to the temptation.

  8. I know dog trainers often disagree on a lot, but one thing that seems fairly consistent it “Set them up to succeed” and your idea of sitting further away and having treats as a distraction, sure would have been helpful.

    I personally have no impulse control at all, especially around yummy food, so those choc-covered pretzels would most certainly be in my belly. I always tell Toby I understand why he tries to steal food. I love food way too much too. :-)

    • Donna is makes a good point (no surprise there though!) I think setting them up to succeed is key. I think we should challenge our dogs, but we need to give them a fair crack at the whip!