Jim Gillies CDBC is a highly experienced and qualified dog behaviourist in Glasgow. With over a decade of experience working with dogs and their owners, Jim has earned a reputation as a trusted expert in his field. He is dedicated to promoting positive reinforcement and reward-based training techniques, always prioritising the well-being of the dogs he works with.
Rethinking Dog Training: Stimulus Control vs. Impulse Control
When it comes to training dogs, the terms “impulse control” and “stimulus control” are often used interchangeably. However, recent research has shown that impulse control may not be an accurate term to describe dog behaviour. Instead, stimulus control may be a more appropriate term. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between these two terms and why stimulus control may be a more effective way to train dogs.
Key Takeaways: Stimulus Control vs. Impulse Control
Impulse Control vs. Stimulus Control: What’s the Difference?
Impulse control is a term that is often used in the context of animal behaviour, particularly with dogs. It refers to the ability of a dog to control its impulses in certain situations, such as resisting the urge to chase after a squirrel or to bark at a stranger. However, recent research has shown that impulse control may not be an accurate term to describe this behaviour. Instead, stimulus control may be a more appropriate term.
What is Stimulus Control?
Stimulus control refers to the ability of a dog to respond to certain cues in the environment, such as a command from its owner or the presence of food. This term is more appropriate because it focuses on the external stimuli that elicit the dog’s behaviour rather than the dog’s internal control over its impulses.
The Research Behind Stimulus Control
Stimulus control provides a more nuanced understanding of dog behaviour, contrasting with the simple model of impulse control. Key findings include:
- Dogs display greater obedience to commands in familiar environments, such as their homes, as evidenced by a University of Sydney study. This suggests environmental cues, rather than impulse control, play a significant role in their response.
- The study also noted a decrease in command-following in unfamiliar settings, indicating that dogs rely on familiar environmental stimuli, like scents or the absence of distractions, to guide their behaviour.
- Additional research showed that dogs learn tasks more effectively when they are associated with specific cues, like visual or auditory signals.
- When presented with competing stimuli, such as an unexpected noise, dogs’ ability to follow the original cue is diminished, further highlighting the importance of external cues over internal impulse control.
Why Stimulus Control is More Appropriate than “Impulse Control”
So why is stimulus control a more effective way to train dogs than impulse control? The answer lies in the fact that dogs are constantly responding to the cues in their environment, whether they are aware of it or not. By focusing on the external cues that elicit certain behaviours, trainers can work to modify the dog’s response to those cues.
For example, if a dog is barking at strangers, a trainer may focus on teaching the dog to respond to a command to be quiet when it hears the doorbell or sees a person approaching. By focusing on the external cues that elicit the behaviour, rather than the dog’s internal control over its impulses, trainers can help dogs to learn new behaviours more quickly and effectively.
Embracing Stimulus Control: A More Effective Approach to Dog Training
While the term impulse control has been widely used in the context of animal behaviour, particularly with dogs, recent research suggests that stimulus control may be a more appropriate term. By focusing on the external cues that elicit certain behaviours, trainers can help dogs to learn new behaviours more quickly and effectively. If you’re a dog owner or trainer, consider incorporating stimulus control into your training approach rather than viewing it as an impulse control issue.
Jim Gillies, a Certified Dog Behaviourist and Trainer in Glasgow with over 10 years of experience, prioritises canine well-being through modern, science-backed methods. Handling 4000+ cases of 1-to-1 behaviour training, Jim is fully accredited, insured, and recognised for addressing various behavioural issues including aggression, separation anxiety, and more. Jim holds qualifications in level 5 (merit) Advance Diploma Canine Behaviour Management and level 6 Applied Animal Behaviour. Explore his insightful blog and podcast, sharing expert knowledge on dog training and behaviour. Certified by the IAABC, Jim’s expertise makes him a reliable choice for addressing your dog’s needs.
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