Self-control is a vital skill to learn.
You see, self-control determines how we are going to behave in everyday life. It doesn’t govern all the choices we make during our day, but it influences a fair few of them.
Self-control stops you from buying that fancy new sports car when you haven’t got the funds to pay for it. It prevents you from having that second helping of dessert or buying cakes in the supermarket when you are trying to lose weight.
Let me share with you one of my biggest weaknesses.
I cannot deny it, but one of my biggest weaknesses is my love for chocolate. To me chocolate is like a best friend, it is what gets me through the day.
I admit it, I am a chocoholic. I just cannot live without chocolate in my life.
I imagine you are all snug and curled up in your most comfy favourite chair wondering how the heck my love of chocolate has anything to do with dog training. Well, the way I see it, a lot, actually.
Have ever heard of the Marshmallow test?
Back in the early 60’s Walter Mischel and his graduate students started an experiment at the Stanford University Bing’s Nursery School, this experiment would become known as The Marshmallow Test.
Imagine this scene: A nursery school child, sitting at a table. A delicate plate on which a fluffy and decadent marshmallow rests. The child’s face contorted in concentration, squirming on his chair trying to resist the temptation to grab and stuff the marshmallow into his mouth…
The experiment was simple in its brilliance. The children were given a simple choice, they could eat the marshmallow now or wait alone for up to 20 minutes for the researchers to bring them the bigger reward of an extra marshmallow on their return.
Years later the team went back and the pre-schoolers who had waited for the second bigger reward had fared better in life than the ones who had eaten the one marshmallow when it was offered. They had developed better self-control.
Over the years since, this test has become the measuring stick by which willpower aka self-control, temptation and determination are defined.
I can tell you now that if you were to do this test on me today, leaving me with a plate with delicious chocolate resting on it, and the sweet scent of chocolate-heavy in the air, I am not sure if I could resist and wait for you to return with another.
Would you be able to leave the chocolate and not have a sneaky taste? Perhaps you would resort to licking the chocolate to get a little of the flavour without actually eating it?
It all depends on how big your desire for that chocolate is, right?
If you are like me and love chocolate, then you are very likely to give in to temptation and eat the chocolate before too long. It would take me a large amount of self-control to force myself not to eat it.
Now if I were to replace that chocolate for a tube of mints, would that make a difference to your response?
Would your level of desire for the mints be as strong as your desire for the chocolates?
For me, the mints would quite easily stay there until the end of time. Because I simply don’t like them, I don’t desire them. I don’t need self-control around the mints, but with the chocolates, it is a whole different story.
I really need to stop myself from eating the chocolate as I love it so. This means I must use self-control.
Now let’s go back to our dogs. They need to learn self-control too.
Self-control is very closely linked to focus and determination.
But what does self-control actually mean and how do we teach it to our dogs?
Self-control is when your dog makes a choice not to chase or pick up that half rotting sandwich from the road. It is your dog choosing to stay with you, even if she is surrounded by exciting distractions.
When we talk about self-control in dog training, we are looking for dogs to choose us over the distractions in the environment. It means that we do not always have to tell them “No”, “Don’t Do That” or “Leave it”. Self-control allows our dogs to make the right choices in life.
However, for you to be able to teach your dog self-control, we need to create desire, because if she has no desire, she will feel no need for restraint. We need to use something that your dog loves to play with or even eat to build that desire so that you can then use this to teach your dog the willpower she needs.
Your dog needs to learn to display a level of self-control, without you, the owner, having to continually remind her to stay with you and ignore that rabbit, pheasant, deer or any smells, sights and sounds that might take her attention away.
Self-Control is one of those really challenging life skills, one where you have to trust your dog to make the right choice. And it really is all about choices. Just like humans make dozens, if not hundreds, of decisions every single day, dogs are faced with choices too. What we want to do when teaching Self Control is to shape your dog’s choices so that she makes the choice that you want her to make.
To do this, you need to make the right choices more rewarding than the wrong ones. This in no way means that you should punish your dog for making the wrong choice. Instead, you should make the right decision so tempting that your dog will not contemplate making any other choice.
Remember you can get all my secrets on how to transform your puller into a dog that walks perfectly on the lead by grabbing a copy of my new book “No Pulling Allowed” by clicking here or alternatively you could pop over to the Amazon Kindle store and grab the kindle version there.