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Long post so TL;DR- My dog has always had decent but not great self-control despite repetitive training. Is it unrealistic to think that we can “master” self-control one day?
I recently read a study that suggested that impulse-control is self-limiting in dogs. For example, if a dog has to exert a lot of will power keeping a down stay around other dogs, once you release him he will be less likely to implement self-control in the next situation that may require it. I’ve also just begun trying to train my dog to balance a treat on his nose. These two things really got me thinking about impulse control.
Brief background- 14 month old GSD, have had him since 10 weeks. This is my first dog and I am by no means an expert, but am pretty happy with how he has turned out so far. I believe I get him enough exercise and mental stimulation most days. He is VERY food motivated. I used to (and still do) watch videos on training tricks and was always fascinated on how focused and calm most of the dogs are. The trainer would hold a treat out and the dog would really think hard about what it was being asked to do. My puppy has always been a spaz and when training tricks would kind of just do anything and everything just to get the treat. When first learning spin, he would just jump up and down at my hands instead of calmly following my hand in a circle. He did eventually learn it and it is a bomb proof trick now. The best example I have of his impulse control is this: we have a backyard and ever since he was fully potty trained I would make him sit, then I would open the door and he would not be allowed to go until I said “release”. I did this in hope of training door manners (it worked pretty well). However, we have been doing this for close to a year and I have NEVER let him bypass my release. I have been very strict and if he broke his sit I would close the door and we would start over again. You would think that by a year he would perfect this, but alas. He still often breaks a sit because the idea of the backyard is sooo high-value to him. Another quick example is down-stay, it has always been a struggle to get him to stay in an extended down stay. He would probably stay if I backed up (still facing him) like a football field length, but if I take two steps out of sight he cannot help himself. He does a fantastic “leave-it”, but I can’t get him to make and keep eye contact with me. He has to frantically glance back every few seconds to make sure it’s still there.
When trying to train a new trick I often face the same problem: I will start by luring with a treat but he will get so excited and start doing every trick he knows to get the treat. We learn new tricks often so it is not impossible, it just takes a little bit longer (and a lot of patience by me). He is VERY eager and willing to please but almost…too eager? I always think about how he would make a terrible police dog/service dog.
I know that some humans are just naturally more patient than others, and some have better impulse control than others. Is this a trained behavior? I know that many police dogs/service dogs wash out, is it mostly because of impulse control?
My question is: does my dog lack impulse control because of the way I raised him? Because of his surroundings? Because of his genetics? I have his lineage, but don’t know a whole lot about the personalities of his parents except that they are both show/sport dogs and friendly. I have spoken with the owners of one of his littermates, and it sounds like he is pretty similar.
Is it realistic of me to think that I can train better impulse control into him by going back to basics such as look at me, extended leave it, down stay, etc? Or do I just accept that he has decent impulse control and work with it? It amazes me that after all this time he can’t keep a sit while I crack open the back door.
Edited to add: I have only ever used positive reinforcement.
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