Impulse Control and Reactivity

Recently I heard about an interesting study. The study went something like this… human participants stared at a computer screen. The screen periodically flashed up a yellow dot. Whenever the yellow dot appeared, the participant had to immediately click a button. Yellow dot… click! Yellow dot… click!

But every now and then, a dot of another colour would appear. Then, the participant had to restrain themselves from the instant clicking.

The study was being discussed in terms of a potential link between the self-control needed to restrain oneself from clicking when faced with the wrong colour dot, and the self-control needed to avoid drinking to excess.

My first thought was… that’s a huge and tenuous leap! Going from dots on a screen to drinking too much!? But my second thought brought to mind dogs (as so often happens in my brain!)…

Actually, I thought, in my experience teaching young dogs self-control in one area of their lives can and does transfer over to influence their behaviour in other areas.


I want to avoid my blogs making it sound as if I have all the answers. I don’t.

Seeming to know-all can be an attractive quality, and I have noticed it is a quality people often (subconsciously?) seek out and admire in agility trainers. My personal feeling, though, is that acknowledging the limitations of my understanding and experience is important. I’m pretty sceptical of anyone who claims to have all the answers.

Knowing I don’t know everything doesn’t make me weak – it enables me to remain open-minded enough to learn. It empowers me to empathise with the experiences of others. “No, I haven’t owned your dog – maybe it isn’t like my dogs have been…”

With this in mind, I want to pose some questions in this blog. You see, recently I’ve been thinking a lot about whether there is a relationship between impulse control and reactivity in dogs, and if there is how exactly that might play out…

1. Can poor impulse control contribute to reactivity?

2. Can reactivity contribute to poor impulse control?

3. Can improving restraint in a completely unrelated area of a dog’s life improve reactivity?

4. If there is a relationship in dogs between impulse control and reactivity, is this seen in other animals, including humans?

I’m really interested in your opinion, knowledge and experiences. Please share your thoughts with me either in the comments below this blog post or through your Facebook comments.

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