This article was written by TOBALIE in cooperation with Dr. Veronika Pfefferkorn-Dellali

The term “impulse control” can hardly be avoided when dealing with the topic of dogs or dog training. But what does it mean and why is it so important for our beloved pets? 

What is meant by impulse control?

Impulse control is the attenuated reaction or the restraint of a behaviour to an occurring stimulus. Directly connected to this is the ability to be patient and not to frustrate so easily. An other term for impulse control would be self-control. The opposite of this is impulsiveness.

If the dog has an impulse control disorder, it means that he has not learned to regulate his impulses. A stimulus can then lead to extremely unpleasant inner tension. These are tried to regulate through uncontrolled and impulsive behaviour, sometimes even obsessive behaviour. 

Why does a dog need impulse control? 

Impulse control plays a role in dog training and in daily social interaction. Nowadays most dogs live as real family members. They must be able to cope with the modern human world and meet a variety of requirements, be socially acceptable and environmentally safe.

We humans have high expectations of the dog. Often he should be partner, child, playmate, sports companion, training partner, psychologist, medical assistant, friend, cuddly toy, chaperone, listener, helper, entertainer and much more. All these tasks should also be mastered patiently, lovingly, cheerfully, confidently and reliably. But a dog is quickly overwhelmed with this. We have to satisfy his needs and treat him in a species-appropriate way.

We humans sometimes forget to see dogs as dogs. Because dogs are domesticated predators that (want to) act according to their nature. At the same time, a dog must and can learn to control its emotions and its behaviour in order to better fulfil the demands placed on it. However, the dog needs our guidance and support. This means that impulse control has to be practiced/trained with the dog, if necessary in relation to the situation. 

What is impulsive behaviour?

Many dogs show impulsive behaviour, especially when they have not learned to behave differently.  

  • The dog is quickly in a highly excited state: trembling with excitement, difficult to rest and stay alone at home, reacts to the slightest stimulus or can hardly concentrate.
  • This is often associated with a low tolerance for frustration.
  • Pull on the leash.
  • Rushing towards strangers or conspecifics.
  • Visitors or owners are jumped at.
  • Playing and wrestling wildly.
  • They have a bad bite resistance.
  • And much more.

Stress favours these behaviours. So make sure that your darling gets enough rest and do not start with any distractions for training. Be patient, because it is very difficult for the dog to learn to hold back. 

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Possible causes for impulsive behaviour

The causes of impulsive behaviour are manifold, often they influence each other and therefore cannot really be separated. Impulsiveness and the resulting problem behaviour can basically be caused or intensified by the following points:

  • May be due to the individual personality of a dog.
  • May be genetic or prenatal. 
  • Can come from the experiences that a dog has had in its life.
  • Can have physical/health causes.
  • Can be due to lack of or incorrect training.
  • Can result from improper keeping (needs not fulfilled).
  • As well as by a fundamentally wrong handling of the respective dog.

What can you do?  

Whether the impulsive behaviour of a dog is perceived as disturbing or stressful depends primarily on the person who is confronted with this behaviour. However, impulse control should also be worked on for the benefit of the dog, as it helps the dog to lead a more balanced life.

There are countless exercises for training impulse control, the level of difficulty of which can be varied and increased as required according to need and training level. Important: A dog can only learn impulse control in a situation-specific way! In other words, it is important to work on generalisation (just because your dog can keep calm at home, he cannot automatically do so on the dog run, this must be practised step by step).

An example of practice

With the help of clicker training, your dog should learn to stay calm when things move. For this exercise in self-control a toy of the dog is integrated. 

In the first step, you give the dog the signal “Sit” and you show him a ball, for example. At this moment you use the clicker (or marker word) to make the dog sit calmly and he gets a reward
In the second step the ball is put down in front of him, clicked again and rewarded.  
In the next step the ball is rolled back and forth. Again a click and a reward follows. After that, you can start to nudge the ball slightly, nudge it a bit harder until it is finally thrown and your darling can stay relaxed. 

Tip: Pay attention to the distance! If it is difficult for your darling to stay calm, do not hold the object of desire directly in front of his nose, but show him the object of desire at a distance that allows him to stay sitting relaxed.

For further exercises and help with the execution, you can contact a dog trainer.

How much impulse control can the dog show?

Please do not exaggerate! The dog only has a certain amount of impulse control. You can think of it as a pot filled with this patience. As the day goes on, the impulse control in the pot gets less and less, for everything where your dog needs it. For example: Waiting to go for a walk, not being allowed to say hello to the dog buddy, not following the jogger, waiting for food to be released, etc. Stress, pain, fear, hormones, etc., also affect the patience pot. When the pot is empty, it needs rest to fill it up again. So if your pet has just watched a deer for a few minutes without running, it will be difficult for him to wait patiently until you have hidden his toy.

So be careful not to expect too much from your dog. See where you can cut down on impulse control and how you can recharge the pot.

Hund wartet auf leckerli freigabe


Impulsive behaviour can become a problem not only for the owner. Also our beloved dogs are in any case more balanced, more relaxed and also partly more obedient, if they have learned to control their impulses.