The “It’s Your Choice” game was originally introduced to me by Susan Garrett. It’s a great game to teach self control to adult dogs and puppies.
My goal is always self rather than imposed control. This means that I don’t want to have to manage my dog forever, but rather teach him to manage himself and control his emotions.
Most dogs have relatively poor self control. While it’s normal for puppies and adolescent dogs to exhibit poor emotional control, it’s amazing to me how many adult dogs have no idea how to control themselves. These dogs often become hysterical when they can’t get something they want, lunging, barking, and throwing themselves around. These dogs need the “It’s Your Choice” game.
The premise of the game is simple. It’s the dog’s choice to control himself in the presence of temptation.
This game can be started with treats (we do this in all of our Beginning Obedience classes as a “leave it” exercise), but should quickly be transferred to real life situations. I’ll discuss how I use it in real life.
Let’s say I’m walking my adolescent dog, and a squirrel darts out in front of us. As soon as he sees the squirrel, he begins straining at the leash and barking loudly. He’s clearly not controlling himself, so this is a perfect time to use the It’s Your Choice game.
The first step is to start backing away from the temptation. I already mentioned that I use a Gentle Leader headcollar when training a dog, and it’s very important here. If my dog were on a regular collar, he could continue looking at the squirrel as we backed away. If my dog’s on a Gentle Leader, I use gentle leash pressure to turn his head away from the squirrel towards me as I back up. I back up 6-10 steps, then let the leash go slack.
This is the moment of truth. It’s the dog’s choice.
If my dog makes the correct choice and offers me attention or begins playing the Look at That game (more about this in later posts), I reward him. Remember that rewards can be whatever the dog is motivated by. In some cases I may click and treat, but with most dogs I’ll click and take a step closer to the squirrel, since that’s what my dog really wants in this situation. My dog quickly learns that by offering me attention and controlling himself, he’s able to get closer to what he wants.
If my dog cannot make the correct choice, I don’t get upset. Instead, I just start another round of the It’s Your Choice game, again turning his head away from the temptation and backing up 6-10 steps. I’ll continue to do this until we get far enough away for my dog to make the choice I want.
So, does your dog have good self control? Have you ever played the It’s Your Choice game, and if so how did it go? Let us know in the comments!