High Drive and Impulse Control
There is a relationship between high drive dogs and issues with impulse control, because higher drive dogs care A LOT about getting what they want. From my point of view this is a good problem to have, but sometimes a handler is overfaced; their dog is more determined, driven and straight out faster than they are. It takes time to learn to manage a dog with a combination of drive and impulse control issues.
These videos show a young Portuguese Water Dog learning self control. This dog is both high in drive and full of confidence; he wants what he wants, and he wants it now.
If you have a high drive dog that frustrates you; grabs at the toys and throws himself around rather than working with you, watch these videos carefully. Note that I don’t respond to his negative behaviors with more energy; getting angry or frustrated with a dog like this is absolutely counterproductive because energy feeds his impulsivity. The trick to training a driven dog is to convince them that the route to drive satisfaction is through cooperation, not determination.
Video One: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f45y3bbI2uk
In this video he is working for food. I make no effort to “calm him down” or to prevent him from bouncing and showing energy. He NEEDS to do this; it’s an outlet for his drive and energy. My reward schedule is low and the work is difficult – I am demanding. The reward schedule is low because I know he is capable of excellence if he concentrates – using food to substitute for expectation teaches the handler to rely on food rather than interaction and expectation. Instead of food, I use fun heeling (circles to the right) to allow him to interact with me. Then I ask him to exert self control by slowing my pace and working to the left. When he succeeds, his reward is to exhibit energy by going back onto a right circle (as opposed to a cookie).
Over time, training this way will help him learn to love work for the opportunity to interact with his handler in a positive manner.
Video two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IukSWbQuRbU
Here I’ve switched from food to developing control over a toy. I start by allowing him to have the toy and we interact nicely together. It’s important that he not see me as a bully – I make sure he knows that I like him and that I want to play with him. Because he is bringing a lot of energy, I match his energy when he is cooperating. When I do insert control and ask for the toy, there is an absolute change in my demeanor. Not only do I stop moving, I stop all of my positive interactions as well. When he is cooperative and I return the toy, note that he gets everything back; my entire attitude goes back to being happy and playful. By pairing my personality with the toy, I’m building in the ability to control him verbally even when there is no toy present. I’m teaching him to care about me – a toy is good, but a toy with me is even better!
This dog is a good example of a high drive dog with a wonderful attitude about work, but his lack on impulse control gets in the way of his ability to move forward in dog sports or to work cooperatively with his handler. Spending a few weeks or months on developing excellent self control will pay huge dividends over the long run.