Self-control Makes Dogs Impulsive

Loker in a down-stay at the park. Can you see his brain working?!

Loker in a down-stay at the park. Can you see his brain working?!

Ironic isn’t it? But it’s true. Check out this article, “In Self Control, Dogs are Only Human” by Stephanie Pappas. They made a study that compared dogs who had to stay in a down-stay to dogs that were crated while there was a distraction around. The dogs in the crate showed less impulsive behavior afterwards than did the ones on a down-stay.

This study also looked at humans and their ability for self control and impulsiveness. “In the same way, humans give up more quickly on puzzle tasks when they’re mentally fatigued by having to resist temptations beforehand.” The more you resist something, the harder it is to focus and stay calm later on.

How exactly did they test the impulsiveness of the dogs? Well after the 10 minute down-stay or being in a crate, the dogs were put in a room with another dog that was aggressive but contained in a crate. The free, test dog could choose its’ distance from that aggressive dog. Those that spent more time close to the other dog were considered to be more impulsive. Turns out “dogs spent 58.9 percent of their time in the portion of the room closest to the angry dog’s cage after the sit-stay session, compared with only 41.8 percent after 10 minutes relaxing in a cage, a significant difference.” Strange, but it makes sense. The dog in a down-stay is using up energy for the self control. Self control leaves dogs with less energy to resist other temptations, because they focus so much energy avoiding the original distraction.

For both dogs and humans, being tired can lead to unintelligent decisions. They make an excilent point here:

A family dog that has to restrain its urge to snap at yelling, screaming kids all day may eventually reach a willpower limit and bite, possibly explaining a large proportion of the 4.5 million dog bites in America each year. It’s up to people to recognize that dogs need breaks and rest as much as we do, she said.

It is certainly something to keep in mind if you ask your dog to tolerate children or other dogs. You always hear of dogs that showed no warning signs or that it bite the child “out of the blue”. Everyone needs their personal space sometimes!