Dogs are driven by their senses. Their sense of smell, one of the strongest, if not the strongest sense a dog has. As trainers, we have a great challenge in front of us. Controlling our dog’s instinct to smell and eat various things. At any given moment, they may be tempted. But if you have done your groundwork, your dog will ‘LEAVE IT” ON COMMAND.
“Leave it” is the command I teach to signal to my dog to avoid the temptation of picking the object up in their mouth and swallowing harmful things like sticks, poop, toxic food, etcetera. In order for the dog to understand they must leave something, We must have a strong relationship with our dog so the temptation is worth leaving to please us! How do we do that? Through training, fun play, and timely marks of the correct effort of the dog.
I use 2 techniques to teach this. Depending on the age of the dog, The drive of the dog, and what you are asking the dog to leave?
Let’s look at the use of food for this first example.
For this, I love to use the clicker, and soft training treats.
Begin with your clicker in you left hand. Food in your right fist. and a pile of soft treats hidden behind you. Sit on the floor with your puppy Hold the clenched fist in front of you. As your puppy smells the food in your hand, pay attention to any movement of the puppy backing away or looking at you for guidance. Mark with a click, and feed with the LEFT HAND. The pup may paw you and or bark. Do not reward this. wait to see the pup back up, and leave your hand, click reward. As you progress, you then will open your hand and go through the procedure again. look for the pup to check in with you and actually “leave it”. click reward.
Next place food on the floor. cover the food with your hand and begin the same procedure. Mark and say good leave it! Next lift and, wait to see the dog leave it and mark with a click. This may take a while and a few sessions. Be patient. Next, stand up, cover with your foot, mark with a click and feed from left hand, when the dog looks at you or backs away from the food on the floor. Take your foot off of the treat, interoduce the cue, “leave it”. Click when the dog avoids the food on the floor and offer your treat from your hand.
2nd technique is using energy and body positions to own the food on the floor. I am a firm believer that the dog looks to you for everything in their world. If you think of wolves and pack behavior. Alfa would eat first. This is always extremely clear. You don’t hear them talking to each other. They use body language to “speak”, No need to say “no” to your dog. When you move your body, the dog is always watching your energy, Always! Have you ever noticed the dog seems to know when you’re getting ready to leave your house? He isn’t reading your mind. He is watching your body energy and can read you like a book!
When using this technique, place the food on the floor. I like using peanut butter or lunch meat in a plastic container. If you have a dog with a high food drive, you could put a lid on it. It should be something very smelly and exciting.
Stand over the food and “take possession” of the food. If the dog pushes their nose into it, simply touch them down on their groin and say SHH or Hey. Stand right up again and stand over the food. The touch is a direct quick touch into the soft tissue. like a poke. The goal being to convey with your energy; you own the food on the floor! Period. Slowly with steady pokes and SHH the dog will back off and look to you. This is what you want! At this point, you can reward with a nice smelly treat from your hand. You then can name it “leave it.” Start to add a little distance to the wanted object and support the dog with the cue, “leave it”. Reward with food from your hand. Proof the exercise by calling the dog by the temptation on the floor. Really make a big deal when the dog makes the right choice to avoid the temptation. Offer a high food reward or a fun play session. You could even offer a swim in the pool if you have one!
Dogs are motivated to please when they have the sense they are being successful. Keep in mind, they need to succeed 85% of the time! Having patience is key. Do not pressure to quickly. If you are facing challenges, break the sessions up. Keep the training sessions to no more than 10 minutes at a time.
With practice and consistency, your dog will learn to “leave it”! Offering more freedom in both your lives and more opportunities for fun!