Jumping up to greet, pulling on leash, grabbing things off counters, taking treats roughly, bolting through doors are some examples where a dog might be overly excited, lacking impulse control. It’s not only bad manners, but it can be dangerous for your bestie.
Yet, having self-control is not something that comes natural for many dogs. It’s not in their DNA to think about the consequences of their actions. Rather, they live in the moment and act on what is happening in their surroundings. Still, according to Ivan Petersel, a New York-based trainer specializing in working with service dogs, dog sports and advanced obedience, and founder of Dog Wizardry, impulse control is vital for your dog to learn because it means that they can be calm in exciting situations.
“This keeps dogs and humans safe,” Petersel says. “For example, who wants to be knocked over for a treat? Who wants to be pulled through the front door?”
Related: 5 of the Most Common Mistakes First-Time Dog Owners Make, According to an Expert
But how do we go about teach our dog to have self-control? It’s not as hard as you think.
Here’s a fun training technique to get you started.
Teaching the ‘Elevator Game’
The Elevator Game (also known as Airplane) is an engaging dog-training exercise that addresses impulse control. Simply put, the elevator game teaches dogs that good things happen when you keep all four paws on the ground instead of jumping, according to Petersel.
Here is how to get started:
Step 1: Place a yummy treat in your hand and hold it high up. This is the top floor of the elevator.
Step 2: When all four paws are on the floor, slowly bring the treat down near your dog’s mouth. Your dog can be sitting or lying down.
Step 3: If at any time your dog’s paws come off the ground, the elevator goes back to the top floor. Practice this non-verbally. “I don’t recommend saying ‘nope’ or giving corrections,” Petersel says. “Just let your dog learn that being pushy makes the yummy thing go away.”
By moving your hand towards or away from the dog based on their attempt to grab it or wait patiently teaches the dog to wait politely, as opposed to jumping up, knocking someone over, and grabbing fingers or hands, according to Joan Hunter Mayer, a certified dog trainer and professional canine behavior consultant and owner of The Inquisitive Canine.
“The goal is to help the dog slow things down so he or she can think before reacting willy-nilly,” she explains. “In human terms, think of it a grabbing something out of someone’s hand, versus waiting until the item is presented to you.”
Why These Types of Games Are So Important for Dogs
This type of exercise, along with other self-control techniques, are important for dogs to learn not only because they gain self-restraint and good manners, but because they can also help keep your dog safe.
“Darting out the door, going after something, swallowing something, bolting down the street, jumping up onto or into something can sometimes result in catastrophic consequences,” says Hunter Mayer. “This teaches dogs that slow and steady not only pays off in the immediate but can also result in better consequences for the long haul.”
As dogs become more able to self-regulate their emotions and learn patience, they will also become calmer and able to deal better with exciting situations like greeting somebody or getting ready to go out for a walk.
Remember, dogs aren’t born with a strong foundation in self-control. It’s up to you to help them figure out how to self-regulate their emotions — not only to keep them safe, but also because a dog that knows how to calm down becomes a better companion. “A polite dog is one who is invited to more places,” Hunter Mayer cleverly points out.