4 Impulse Control Games for Dogs + Signs You Need to Work on Impulse Control | Pupford

May 2nd, 2023

Filed under Training

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There’s a common misconception that dogs who chase, run across thresholds, or seemingly can’t control themselves around food are being defiant or trying to be the “alpha” of your home.

But that’s not really the case. What you’re seeing in those situations is impulse, rather than a personality trait.

Dogs have strong impulses by nature, with certain impulses being particularly strong in certain breeds – for example, terriers may be more likely to want to chase a squirrel than a pug, but that pug may have a harder time waiting patiently for their food.

Today we’re going to talk a little more about your dog’s impulses, signs you may need to work on impulse control with your dog, and some games and activities that can engage your dog while working on their impulse control!


what is impulse control for dogs

We talked a little in our introduction about what impulses are. But it’s important to be really clear about what we mean by impulse control.

There’s a common misconception that impulse control means working to eliminate impulses altogether. Not only is that not accurate, it’s not possible. Impulses are a natural part of how your dog’s brain is wired and attempting to go against that will just leave your dog frustrated – not to mention you as well.

What we’re really trying to accomplish is helping your dog manage their impulses and explore them productively. We want them to know that if they have patience and don’t act on their impulses in certain situations, there will be positive outcomes.

And of course, we want to give our dogs plenty of opportunities to have fun with their impulses through additional games and activities that foster their chase, prey drive, and foraging impulses among others.

Now that we’re more clear on the goals of impulse control, we can get into signs that your dog needs some work in this area and how you can help them – in fun ways!


dogs pulling on leash because they cant control their impulses

So how do you know when it’s time to bring some impulse control activities into your training?

Here are a few common behaviors that mean your dog may need a little help with their impulses:

  • Running through doorways to get outside
  • Rushing in and out of car doors
  • Pulling on their leash during walks
  • Chasing cats, squirrels, birds, and other animals
  • Rushing to greet people and animals and/or jumping on them as a greeting
  • General hyperness and inability to calm down
  • Trying to take food out of your hand or eating before being told to
  • Putting everything in their mouth

Keep in mind that there’s no bad time to work on impulse control. You don’t have to wait for your dog to exhibit any of these behaviors – in fact, it’s better to be proactive and get ahead of them.

Related Reading: How to Stop a Dog From Running Out the Front Door


The good news is that working on impulse control can be a lot of fun for both you and your dog. There are plenty of training games out there that help your dog channel their impulses using positive reinforcements.

Like any other type of training, you’ll want to be prepared with the right tools before you get started. Here’s what we recommend:

In some cases, you’ll also need a buddy to help out or some other specific tools. But those three staples will come in handy in many training scenarios.

Now let’s get into what you came here for – a few examples of impulse control games.


dog waiting to get food off the counter

This game teaches your dog to not lunge for food or steal off-limits food. The goal of this game is to be able to gradually lower a plate of human food (be sure to use dog-safe food just in case!) all the way to the ground without your dog lunging towards it.

Sounds challenging, but if you work to make slow and steady progress, you’ll even be able to get your dog to maintain eye contact with you the whole time and completely ignore the plate!

You’ll need:

To play:

  1. Kneel or stand above your dog with your food on a plate
  2. Start to lower the plate
  3. As you lower the plate, raise it immediately when (or if) your dog goes for it
  4. Repeat this until you can successfully lower the plate all the way to the floor
  5. Once that happens, mark and reward
  6. If needed, you can start by rewarding your dog when you are able to lower it ¼, ½, or ¾ the way to the floor


dog playing with a flirt pole for an impulse control game

If you have issues with your dog chasing objects or animals, this game is for you.

Have your dog in an enclosed environment or on a long lead, and get your dog engaged with their flirt pole. The goal of this game is to be able to move the flirt pole out of your dog's reach, give them a cue, and have them completely stop chasing the flirt pole.

That way, if you are out and about and a squirrel runs by, you can give the “leave it” cue and trust that they won’t go after the squirrel.

You’ll need:

To play:

  1. Start by getting your dog used to playing with a flirt pole by making it as exciting as possible
  2. Slowly move the flirt pole around. You’ll want your dog to be engaged and go after it
  3. Then stop moving it and move it out of your dog’s reach
  4. Wait for them to stop chasing/jumping
  5. The instant they show restraint, mark and reward


working on impulse control with dog at front door

This game is for dogs who go bonkers when the doorbell rings or when someone knocks. It’s a game to gradually get your dog to stop barking when the doorbell rings and to sit patiently in a designated place until released.

You’ll start by marking and rewarding your dog when they stop barking, and eventually work to have them in their place and sitting or lying down before the door opens, without you having to even tell them.

You’ll need:

To play:

  1. Stand near the door and have someone knock or ring the doorbell
  2. Wait until your dog stops barking
  3. The instant they stop, mark and reward
  4. Depending on your dog, you may need to work on this frequently for a few days. The more you do it, the quicker they will stop barking
  5. Then introduce their place or bed


dog waiting to play the red light green light impulse control game

Leash reactive dogs, this one is for you.

Red light green light is a game that teaches your dog to move forward on the leash when you tell them to, not when they feel like it or see something worth chasing. Your dog will be more focused during walks and they will be rewarded by getting to walk with you – win-win!

You’ll need:

To play:

  1. Start inside with your dog on a leash
  2. While holding the leash, start walking forward
  3. As long as the leash is loose, keep walking
  4. When the leash gets tight, stop walking
  5. Wait until your dog comes to you or stops pulling then mark and reward
  6. Start walking again
  7. Repeat

Looking for even more details about these games (like steps to increase the difficulty and video examples) or other impulse control games for your dog?

The Pupford Academy has an expert-led course for 21 Impulse Control Games. Each one helps keep your dog focused and engaged with you, working on specific instances where impulses can cause unwanted behaviors.

For example, the Proper Pup Meal Time game teaches your dog to wait patiently for their food, while the Open Door Policy game teaches your dog not to burst through doors.

Each one has step-by-step written and visual instructions, with multiple levels to help your dog master the behavior one step at a time.

Check out 21 Impulse Games, and other helpful courses, in the Pupford Academy!



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