Frustration Tolerance and Impulse Control

Learn how to teach your dog to behave more patiently.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #112

Dogs don’t come with factory installed impulse control. They see food, they eat it. They see a squirrel, they chase it. They spot a person they like, they rush to a greeting. Some dogs give up quickly when they can’t get what they want. Others bark and whine. A minority get cranked up, jumping, bodyslamming, and mouthing. And a few growl, snap, and even bite. This week, 4 easy tips for how to teach your dog a more patient response to not getting what he wants right away.

First things first. All healthy young dogs need exercise – and none more than these frustration-intolerant characters. Every day, they should get enough exercise to leave them dragging their tongues on the floor. A dog full of pent-up energy just can’t learn quiet, calm manners.

Also, start where your dog is, not where you wish she was. Suppose your Dogalini starts bodyslamming you if you don’t throw the ball immediately in a game of fetch. Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead, she sat quietly till you were good and ready to throw? Sure. But that’s your goal, not your starting point. Build your dog’s patient behavior with patient practice, and to begin with, throw that ball as soon as she’s sat for a nanosecond.

With that in mind, try these 4 reward-based exercises for teaching your dog to wait patiently when she wants something:

Tip #1 - Wait for Supper

This works whether you’re feeding your dog out of a bowl or giving him a food-dispensing toy to play with. Have the meal ready and ask Zippy to sit. Begin to lower the food to the ground. If Zippy gets up from the sit, raise the food and again give him the cue to sit. Then start lowering the food.

You may have to stop and start over a few times before Zippy is able to control himself as you lower the food all the way to the floor and then give him the okay to eat it. If he’s having a really tough time with this exercise, troubleshoot. Put Zippy behind a gate he can’t jump over, or have a second person hold him on leash and help him out by delivering bits of food to him while you lower his bowl or his food-dispensing toy. As Zippy gets better at sitting while you put his food down, you can dispense with the gate or the leash, and also with the auxiliary treats.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).