Does Leave it Teach Impulse Control?
How do we teach impulse control? This is a question that a lot of owners have, and the answer that many come up with is by teaching leave it.
There are a lot of reasons why Leave it won’t teach impulse control; so many in fact that I don’t teach my own dogs leave it AT ALL. But then how do I prevent them from getting into things that they shouldn’t have? This is a part of dog training that some trainers don’t even know how to harness, and it all has to do with what part of the process we control.
Let me tell you a secret, it’s not the dog!!
Why I don't teach Leave it
Leave it is actually stopping your dog from having impulse control and doesn’t prevent them from getting into things you want them to leave alone. It doesn’t require the dog to actually restrain themselves from forbidden items, in fact it really doesn’t require anything but the dog listen to informing them which items are off limits. And that’s only if you catch them! The other unknown danger of this has to do with the times when your dog is successful in doing the thing you don’t want. Now they’ve learned that SOMETIMES, you’re not there to enforce or will be too slow or whatever other human error has happened. So they will continue to do the things you don’t want, always hopeful for that jackpot of when they win.
We are fallible, and we’re also setting ourselves up to be a roadblock for our dog that they will try to circumvent, rather than a partner they are trying to work with.
In short the dog is reliant on your command, so if the command doesn’t come, or if you’re not there to enforce it, what will the dog do? It’s simple, they’ll do that which benefits them. If that means they’re digging through your garbage, chasing the deer, trying to get to other dogs, eating that chicken bone from the gutter, they’ll do it!
Teach Impulse Control Instead
In training terms I would define impulse control as the dog restraining themselves from the thing that they want to have. The emphasis is that the DOG is the one who is preventing themselves, not us, and they are actively doing so because they perceive it to be the better option for them.
Leave it is inherently punitive. From the dog’s perspective “my owner comes along and is constantly preventing me from having the things I want”. This puts you in a position of conflict with your dog automatically and you are the competition, like it or not.
This is NOT to say that dogs who are learning impulse control just have access to everything all the time and are living lives of absolute freedom and frolicking around doing whatever they please. Nor am I suggesting that these dogs are not prevented from getting things they want. The difference is though that they are taught that it is more worth their while to NOT go after the things they want and instead ask us politely. They do not see us as the roadblock, but instead as a partner they work with to get the things they want. I want my dogs to work with me and to see me as a partner and I will always teach impulse control because of the massive benefits.
The difference may seem small when it is written in text. It may seem like it really doesn’t matter. But it does.
Imagine a dog who because of impulse control:
- No longer pulled on leash towards squirrels, but instead could watch them calmly, happily even
- Was much more in tune to you; you’re no longer dead weight at the end of their leash!
- Doesn’t bolt out the door
- Doesn’t climb on your counters to clean them of food
- One you don’t have to micromanage or worry over around every scenario
- Calmly stands for you to leash them before walks
- Doesn’t jump on guests and can contain their excitement
- Doesn’t eat random garbage off of the street on your walks
- Can be easily called away from things they want and readily comes back to you
- Who you could trust to make the choices that you wanted and could be relied on in difficult situations
All of these come from your dog’s understanding of impulse control. Things that leave it can never teach, but that a rudimentary level of impulse control can quickly grow. It’s done as a team, and allows you to trust your dog, being able to give them more freedom and experiences in their life because of this simple skill. Truly it is invaluable, and one that I wish more owners knew about!