Can Dogs Be Impulsive?

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Introduction

Impulsive people have a tendency to go where angels fear to tread. Some people think they are irresponsible as they act on a hunch before they’ve thought it through. Of course, there are life events when there’s no time to think or reason and a sudden decision could save a life. 

Dogs can be impulsive but have also been known to rush into the sea and save a drowning child. Woofers with erratic behavior are enough to make you dizzy as they leap all over your guests or pull you down the road when they’ve spotted a cat. Like impetuous people, they make split-second decisions with no brain power in place. Their devil-may-care attitude could get you both in hot water if it isn’t curbed.

Signs a Dog is Impulsive

Puppies can be hyperactive with all senses on chew-everything-in-sight. The allure of the cute, fluffy thing at the pet store is often an impulsive buy waiting to cause havoc. Dogs are like toddlers, so you can expect a few tantrums, stains on the carpet and yes, your best shoes destroyed.

If boundaries are not taught, your darling will grow up to be a reckless mutt that has you ringing the doctor for Prozac. Tearaway toddlers have nothing on the dog who thinks the house is their playground and the shaggy rug and toilet roll - their toys.

It’s hell on earth when the doorbell rings and your careless canine jumps up to greet the guest. That wouldn’t be so bad if it were a little Pug or Maltese but your brazen child is a Standard Poodle that could push a person to the ground. Milly is exuberant and, like a person who's impulsive, her brain cells are disengaged.

Walks are a nightmare as she yanks you this way and that. You can't take her back to the doggy-park as her impoliteness almost got her kicked out. Milly is care-free and thinks life is "do what you want." The puppy you fell in love with is a time bomb waiting to go off.

She growls at other dogs and barks mercilessly when the postman tries to deliver the mail. Milly's complete lack of focus is also losing you friends. Those brave enough to stop by are met with a Poodle who play-bows at their feet. This might seem sweet if she brought a toy to play with but Milly insists on all the attention and gets snappy if your friends want to talk.

The poodle parlor has banned her and advised training to make her behave. She apparently bit the groomer when they were trying to put her in the bath. She zooms through the house like a hurricane and whines when she can't get a treat. Milly is out of control and you are ready to call it quits.

Body Language

Signs that you have an impulsive dog include:
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Jumping up
  • Lack of focus
  • Snapping
  • Biting

Other Signs

More signs that your dog is reactive are:
  • Jumping all over guests
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Bullying other dogs
  • Having no patience

History of Impulsive Canine Behaviour

Our interest in the Golden Retriever lying blissfully in front of the fire sparks a desire to know their ancestry and how on earth a dog with floppy ears evolved from a ferocious looking wolf?

Speaking of fires it seems industrious wolves got high on the smell of meat basting in a human campfire and impulsively thought ”what the heck!" Man and wolf got together and a legion of dog breeds was born.

Wolves are known to live in packs and hunt studiously to supply their community with food. The mere fact that they took the gamble and worked with humans shows an impulsiveness that may have been inherited by dogs.

Mother Board kindly told us about a study performed at the infamous Wolf Center in Austria. The researchers wanted to test how much control wolves and dogs have over their impulses, so they placed a treat in a metal cylinder open at both ends. There was no problem for both dogs and wolves until the cylinder was replaced with a clear one. Dogs worked it out and got the treat while wolves kept banging their nose into the sides before finding the open end

In another test, a treat was placed in a box behind a fence with access via doors that were either open or shut. Dogs were reluctant to go around the fence when the door was closed, while the wolves took not time seeing the quickest route to their prize. Seems like one-all, as both dogs and wolves exhibited an ability to deter their impulses and grab the treat.

It’s thought that domestication has taken the edge off our woofers, making them more impulsive and less likely to act on their instincts.You might not see them gambling on bitcoins, but dragging you through the park in pursuit of a squirrel is a definite possibility!

The Science Behind Impulsive Dogs

According to Live Science, impulsive people looking for instant gratification cause a rise in dopamine - the "feel good" hormone in the brain. It’s hardly surprising as nothing is set in stone with people living on the streets, politicians playing with World War 3, and job security a thing of the past.

Dog Journal endeavors to understand what makes some dogs behave in a similar way. The question of genetics and the pooch’s environment appear to have a major impact on a dog's view of the world. If a mommy-dog is the nervous or impulsive type, there is a chance she will pass this temperament onto her pups. Life in the womb plays its part as a breeder in a puppy mill lives in un-savory, overcrowded conditions where the puppies are often taken earlier than they should be. Their journey already is one of stress and despair.

According to Your Dogs Friend, some of these puppies wind up in pet stores where their past history is not revealed to the new owner. They suggest you purchase a pup from a well-respected breeder, known to have a breeding regime that guarantees dogs are of good temperament and health. If the breeder is within driving distance, you can check out the environment and the parents of the pup you are considering.

Like a child who acts on every whim and has no time to wait for a patience reward, your dog can be hyperactive, aggressive, and ignore your requests. In children this could be referred to as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and yes, it is possible for dogs to have canine ADHD.

Training an Impulsive Dog

If your pooch is rowdy, super-hyper, and overly impulsive, they are a candidate for impulse control training.

Too many owners think this is just how their dog rolls and no amount of training will change their embarrassingly clownish ways. That might be bearable if you have a Chihuahua or Maltese but when your Bull Mastiff or Akita are pushing you as they race for the ball, it’s time to get help from trainers that know what to do.

Karen Pryor talks about reactive dogs that want the walk, toy, or food when they say so. She says they need to learn how to control their urges with a "default behavior" such as sit. It's near impossible to train a dog that's leaping all over all over the place, so it's important to calm them first. If you're ready to go to the park and they are climbing up the walls, wait quietly until they have cooled down. If they sit when asked, reward the behavior.

Your fur-baby will get to know that acting on impulse gets them nowhere but if they then chill out - its treats for being good. You have to address the initial behavior and get the dog's attention before you can do anything else.

If your mutt-on-a-mission bolts out the front door when it’s time for a walk, you’ll need (for safety reasons) to teach them to “wait.” Try practicing this before you take them out. Knowing your pooch is on adrenaline over-drive, you can leash them and say “wait.” This gives a revved-up woofer a timeout, after which you can take them to the park.

Dogs on impulsive steroids are a real handful, but using default settings can calm them when the frenzy kicks in. Kids who are hyper and always "WANT" are taught to say please politely. This is pretty much what you are teaching your pooch. If they want something that's OK to have, they don’t have to go bananas to get it. Good things can happen if they keep their impulses in check.

How to React When Your Pooch Responds to Training:

  • Praise them and reward with a toy or treat.
  • Read articles about reactive and impulsive dogs.
  • Share your story.
  • Practice "Default Behavior" in all the areas they need it.
  • Talk to an "impulse control" trainer about your dogs impulsiveness.