Sarah Owings
Sarah Owings

Control Is An Illusion: Rethinking How We Teach for “Impulse Control”

What do we really mean when we talk about impulse control?

course starts
1 June 2023



Previous editions

February 2023

June 2022

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  In this impulse control class we are going to be asking lots of questions such as:

  • What do we really mean when we talk about impulse control?
  • Are impulses things trainers really can control?
  • Are animals, and in particular, dogs, even capable of the executive functioning required to understand delayed gratification the way humans can? Is this even a fair expectation to ask of them?
  • When an animal succeeds in resisting temptation, what is really going on behaviorally in terms of the science–not just commonly held views on how dogs should behave?
  • What learning principles underlie the training protocols we often use to get impulse control?
  • And, are there better ways to achieve the important goal of an animal that is safe and calm around potentially exciting stimuli like food reinforcers, squirrels, toys, etc?
Impulse control is often described as a dog making the right “choice” or being able to delay gratification by suppressing some internal or innate desire. The ubiquitous exercise “Leave it,” taught day one in almost every puppy or pet manners class that I’ve ever seen or participated in, is often described as a technique that will “change the way a dog’s mind works.” But just ask yourself this: if the underlying goal of your training plan is to change something inside the animal that you can’t see or define, it may be time to take a closer look. When it comes to behavior, the only things we can really control are context and consequence, the A and the C in the ABC contingency. That’s it. What is really going on inside the animal’s mind is still a bit of a mystery.
In this impulse control class we will also focus on practical teaching strategies that avoid some of the frustration and emotional conflict that potentially come along with learning via negative punishment and extinction.

Some exercises /topics may include:

  • How to build trust in the reinforcement process
  • How to identify and meet your learner’s needs before placing contingencies on behavior
  • How to teach helpful defaults for stability around exciting things
  • Release Cues
  • Back-chained Zen Bowl
  • Leave it without the “Leave it.”
  • Motivating Operations
  • Distractions as non-relevant stimuli, or the “fade in protocol” (Credit: Kay Laurence)
  • Stimulus control (waiting for cues, listening for cues) without extinction

This course is our BEST-SELLER! Sarah has helped hundreds of students understand better impulse control. She will be happy to explain it to you too! Join her impulse control class today!


  • course lasts 6 weeks
  • lectures
  • access to other Premium member's threads
  • video tutorials
  • certificate of attendance
  • 24 hours, 7 days per week access to course materials
  • access to Tromplo: students group on Facebook
  • access to materials after the course is finished
  • 4 points to spend on future purchases




  • course lasts 6 weeks
  • lectures
  • access to other Premium member's threads
  • video tutorials
  • certificate of attendance
  • 24 hours, 7 days per week access to course materials
  • access to Tromplo: students group on Facebook
  • access to materials after the course is finished
  • 15 points to spend on future purchases
  • 12 minutes videos per week
  • tutor's feedback
  • homework
  • unlimited contact with tutor


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Reviews for this course

2020-10-28 12:00:47

Sarah is a very gracious and engaged teacher, quick to give feedback and her genuine interest in the animals (including the human learner) is very apparent and I find the ideas behind this course fascinating. The content is massive, both text-wise and video-wise so having lifelong access is fantastic, I would perhpas have wanted it to be a little bit more compressed or succinct but the overall impression is still of a very valuable course that I hope many dog owners will indulge themselves with, for the benefit of our furry teammates =)

2020-02-26 00:39:04

Simply one of the best courses I have ever taken online. The way Sarah explains her concepts is simply stunning. 

2020-02-02 15:31:10

I cannot recommend this course enough. Sarah is a thoughtful, organized teacher and dedicates so much time to providing information and feedback. I took the course with a GSP pup I was training for a client family. Through this training, Mellie was able to go to her home with the foundation of stimulus control and I was able to give her family games and training to continue the process. I loved being able to watch other people’s videos and see feedback, learn from the other students taking the course, and develop my ideas and training methods. 

As a service dog trainer, stimulus control (what I was calling self-control and impulse control before) is the foundation for our training. Because of this course, I was able to refine and improve the methods I already had in place to give clear, consistent communication to the dogs and clients I work with. This course is absolutely wonderful for any dog trainer or owner that wants to learn more about dog behavior and providing clear information regarding stimulus control. 

2019-12-15 06:38:08

Sarah is incredible in her knowledge, understanding, and dedication. The mixing of written explanations, videos, and step-by-step guides really helped putting ideas and techniques together. Very informative and inspiring teacher and course!

Sabine Martini-Hansske
2019-10-22 10:12:15

Such a great course. Although the topics discussed are available in other contexts, Sarah's unique approach and indepth discussion and application and breaking down the single steps needed to find that elusive "control" is marvelous.

I have learned to much about what constitutes teaching dogs (and other animals) control - over the training situation, when reinforcement is available and what behaviors will have success.

This course offered us the entry into a new and exciting world of training for months, maybe years to come.

2019-07-19 17:28:08

I have really enjoyed this course and have learned a lot. Sarah is a wonderful, kind, patient, down-to-earth and encouraging teacher. The course was packed full of info, but not overwhelming. A nice balance of theory and practical demonstrations. I will certainly recommend it to others!

Shelly Wood
2019-07-17 18:43:12

This course has changed, and continues to change, both my way of thinking and my way of training. The material is fascinating and the exercises are beautifully simple, but yet so powerful. The top notch instruction provided by Sarah Owings sets each and every student in the course up for success. One of many things that I love about this course is the focus on principles over recipes which empowers the human students to really think for themselves by the end of the course in order to use the material in a broad range of situations. I truly cannot recommend this course enough! I am anxiously awaiting part two!

2019-07-13 20:50:03

Unbelievable course! Fabulous instructor! Sarah Owings made the material very accessible (even when in the depths of theory geekiness). Her detailed feedback to the premium students helped us auditors see the material come alive. She also offered all students incredible support through the Facebook group.
Cannot recommend the course and the instructor more highly.

Jenny Efimova
2019-07-13 16:55:02

This course is pure excellence as is Sarah Owings. The information, knowledge, and science Sarah shares with her students is not only top notch, but delivered in an immensely thoughtful and accessible way. This course will make you a better teacher, observer, thinker, listener, and partner for your dog. It will change how you see training in a profoundly big and small ways. Most importantly, Sarah demonstrates actionable positive reinforcement and compassion with her students in every interaction. She provides incredibly thoughtful, clear, and nuanced feedback. It completely bridges the remote platform and you truly feel like you have an amazing coach and partner throughout this process. Needles to say, I couldn’t recommend this course highly enough. If you’re reading this and there are premium spots open, don’t walk, run to get one!

Katarzyna Szczerbowska-Prusevicius
2019-07-11 20:56:04

This course was really mind-blowing. There were so much valuable information and deep insight into the details of successful training. The course improves not only technical skills but creates a huge amount of trust and understanding between dogs and humans. Sarah Owings is an amazing dedicated teacher who picks every student and her/his dog up at the point where they currently are and guides them gently towards their goals. One thing in this course was the material in lectures and lessons Sarah has prepared before the course started. But what made this course so unique were the discussions in the Premium threads and facebook group and bonus videos Sarah made to fulfill the special needs of participating students.

Elaine Pattinson
2019-07-11 15:34:12

This has been an amazing course. Thank you for putting so much effort in to supporting the auditors in the Facebook group: it has made a complicated subject so interesting and accessible. I am fully appreciative of all the extra videos that you made as the course went on, to help us fully ‘grasp’ the subject. We have had great fun and look forward to further courses.