Since writing about impulse control the other day, I’ve been really focusing on helping Mira with hers. I have noted a correlation between how much exercise she’s had, and her ability to control herself. It’s pretty simple: when she’s well exercised, she keeps her head about her much more easily. This is fine and dandy, but I need her to learn to control herself regardless of how much running she’s done beforehand. I know this will come with time, and I am very patient with her.
Today I was out of town for the day so the dogs didn’t get a good run. Tonight, Mira had one heck of a time trying to hold her sit when I let the dogs out to potty before bed. I eventually just let the other two out and continued to try and get Mira to sit and hold her sit about 5 feet back from the door. Every single time I moved my arm towards the door, she’d pop up out of her sit.
Mira turned two last month, and has had to sit before going out a door every day of her life with me (about 650 days) at least twice a day, generally 4-5 times a day or more. That means she’s had to do this exercise no less than 2000 times as a conservative estimate. So what gives? Why can’t she hold her sit? She also can’t hold a sit at the start line with agility. My instructor had implied that I didn’t do enough boundary work with her, but 2000 “start line” sits at my front door is not exactly slacking off!
I’ve been thinking this through and I think I know how to deal with it. Mira can actually hold her sit just fine at home. The difference there is that when we step out the door, she has to sit again on the front step and wait for me to lock the door. Then she has to step off the step (upon being released) and walk nicely on a leash, in heel position, until we get to the park 3 blocks away. Only then can she start running around like a crazed lunatic. Here, at my parents house, the second she crosses the threshold of the door she’s into a frenzied chase with the other dogs of some imaginary (and on occasion, real) squirrel. It’s just too much stimulation for her to manage at this point. Even letting the other dogs out first doesn’t help her stay focused. It may be making things worse. Tonight, when I finally released her (after nearly 10 minutes of patiently waiting for her to hold her sit, without saying a word), she ran out of the house so hard that she tripped, wiped out at top speed and rolled right off the deck into a snowbank. Fortunately she didn’t hurt herself!
I am not going to be able to fix this overnight. Since she holds her sit just fine at home, where we are 90% of the time, I could just forget about trying to get her to control herself here and let her do as she pleases when we’re here. But I don’t really like that option. I think learning to control herself here will benefit her in other ways down the road. So I need to break this down into little steps and gradually build back up to the current situation such that she is able to manage it.
I will start by letting her out the front door only for a bit, and try and de-escalate the excitement around going out. Then I will start to let her out the back door with the other dogs locked up in the house. I will also start to implement the rule we have at home, i.e. that she needs to stop as soon as she steps out the door and sit again. Then I’ll do some obedience work outside for a few minutes before releasing her very quietly. I need to reduce the value of that doorway so that she no longer bursts through it.
The other thing I will do is work on shaping her with a box and playing crate games with her. The more she does, the better impulse control she will eventually have.