Impulse control, Self-management and Handler-cued control

Training Diary Day 175-180
3rd March 2018
Training Diary Day 181-199
22nd March 2018
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I thought I would digress from the training diary for a minute to put down my thoughts on the difference between Impulse control, self-management and handler cued control behaviours.

We had an interesting discussion on a Facebook group recently which made me clarify to myself what the difference between all these behaviour is in my mind. How do I classify each type of behaviour?  So here goes.

For this example we will use a dog not taking food when it is thrown on the floor.

Handler cued control

This is where the handler verbally or visually cues the dog to perform control behaviour. The handler asks for a sit stay and then cues the dog to ‘leave it’ as they throw food on the floor.  In this case it is the handler’s choice that the dog doesn’t take the food.

Impulse control

In my mind this is where the dog chooses not to follow through with a natural instinct to chase/grab/jump on etc. So in this example the dog has learned through training that it is unproductive to try to take the food when it is thrown so they leave it alone.


I look at this as more of a duration behaviour, in this example the dog choosing to walk away and go to bed and leave the food for a period of time.

Listening to Sian Ryan at the last Positive Gundog Training conference it was great to hear that there is now proof that there is a big difference in concept learning if you teach sit/stay/leave it or Impulse control.

In the research that they did, the dogs that were taught sit/stay leave it did not have as good self-control in a different exercise than the dogs who were taught Impulse control. So spending the time teaching your dog good impulse control means that their overall understanding of self-control goes up and can be used in other areas of their training.

I am seeing the results of this with Erik. The more I am working through the crate games and self-management exercises the more self-control I am seeing in other areas of his life that have had no direct training.

Impulse control needs to be taught and there will be environmental cues which help to trigger the dog to control themselves. For example if I put my hand on the front door handle this cues my dogs to sit and not to go out of the door.  They can choose to get up but that results in the door closing so they have learned that the quickest way to get out of the door is to sit and be calm until released.

There is a fine line between handler controlled behaviour and Impulse control and that is why I find it easiest to define the difference by who is making the choice.

If we are trying to create a default behaviour then we have to teach the dog to make the correct choice on their own by making it more productive to do it the way we want them to rather than doing what their impulse tells them to.

For example I have been working on teaching Erik that he should only chase something if I have already said ‘Ready’. If he doesn’t hear that word then he shouldn’t chase the toy.  So, if when I go to throw a toy without saying ‘Ready’, he takes off running then I don’t throw the toy.  He has now learned that unless he hears ‘Ready’ there is no point running.  This is a default behaviour which I need so that he doesn’t run in on thrown dummies when hunting.  So the behaviour looks like this: –

  • ‘Ready’, I throw the toy and Erik chases after it and gets the toy
  • Silence, I throw the toy, and Erik stands still until released to the toy with ‘Get it’ or cued to do some other behaviour and then released to the toy.

Teaching this default will also help with a situation such as a formal retrieve set up where I have cued the sit/stay and the dummy is thrown for a marked retrieve.