This article Self Control and Aggression got me thinking about what it is I'm training a dog to do when I'm calling it Self Control or Impulse Control. As the article points out, a possible conclusion based on a study in the Journal of Consumer Research "Research has shown that exerting self-control makes people more likely to behave aggressively...” I've experienced this all too many times myself when on a diet or trying to put myself on a daily exercise routine.
Sarah brought into play a new concept in her article above - self denial. Are self control, impulse control and self denial all the same? Is dieting self denial or self control? Is formal exercise a form of punishment and a reflection of self hate or exerting control over one's health?
So where does this get us with creating self control in a dog? Is it really self control we are creating or something else? The second question I asked myself was "are we really controlling our emotions, or are we just suppressing them and that is why they come out in other situations so violently"?
If you read down further in the Wikipedia definition of self control you find a scientific definition based on reinforcement and consequences., motivation and the emotional state necessary to succeed. This I think is more defining of what we do with a dog then just "self control".
So, what are we doing when we teach a dog to sit, to stay, to come or heel or lay down? Are we teaching them self control or control by human? Most of you who know me know that I don't agree that obedience teaches self control. It teaches the dog to do what the human asks because of the consequences that occur when they don't. The rewards in traditional obedience training are few and not necessarily what a dog would consider a reward or even reinforcement and definitely not a necessity.
Where is the self control in that? All I see is a strict, fenced in existence for a dog. Sure the dog is helping a human, but does a dog really have the capacity to understand the important job he's doing and feel fullfilled about it? I seriously doubt it. Yes, dogs love jobs, but those jobs either need to be fun, mentally and physically challenging or provide for the basics of life. Dogs do what gets them what they want or what avoids pain and death. All I see in this "training guide" is the avoidance of pain and death and over the years I've had to bring many many service dogs back to balance.
Conservation of energy plays a huge part of what I train in the name of self control. Most dogs, when confronted by a human that has food in their hand and keeps withholding it, will try jumping, lunging, biting, barking and many other strategies for getting that food - mostly assertive methods. Not very energy conscious types of activities. But these methods are what are hard wired into a puppy in order to get an adult to feed them by vomiting up whatever they ate that day. Eventually, the adult dogs teach the puppy to tend to his own necessities and those methods of "begging" are extinguished.
Not so in the human world. Humans tend to let a pup continue those activities and then complain about them when the pup is a 90 lb menace. Humans need to show their pups the same thing they would be learning from the adult dogs in their social group - how to provide for themselves with the least amount of energy expended. In our world that means learning manners about food, doors, cars, walks, guests, cats and other things found in the human existence. The pup needs to learn how to use it's energy to control this environment in order to get it's neeeds met.
Not self control, just conservation of energy, awareness of the environment and the things and other beings in it, awareness of other determinism and self determinism and how they can work together to create a life worth living.