Have you ever watched helplessly as your dog swallowed something disgusting or dangerous?
Like, you’re out at a park and he’s suddenly crunching on a dead bird?
Or, you’re out walking and before you know it your puppy has a cigarette butt in her mouth!
This is where the “Leave It” command (meaning, Do Not Touch!) comes in handy and can even save a dog’s life.
I thought my dog understood “leave it,” but just the other day we were out walking, and before I had a chance to stop him, he’d picked up and swallowed what I *think* was part of a sandwich.
My attempts to firmly tell him “leave it!” were ignored.
And after he’d swallowed his find in one gulp, he looked at me and wagged his tail.
“Oh? Were you saying something?”
It pissed me off.
But mostly, I was worried my dog had eaten something unsafe.
I realized I need to work on a more-solid “leave it” command with Ace so he’ll listen to me when it matters. (“Drop” is another good one.)
2019 update: Ace has passed away.
Sure, he’ll obey “leave it” in the living room, but not necessarily in “real world” scenarios such as if he’s off leash and about to eat or roll on a dead fish.
With this post, I thought I’d briefly go over how to teach a dog to “leave it.” Then I’ll cover some ideas on how to get to a higher level of training.
How to teach your dog the command ‘leave it’
(I use “leave it” to mean “do not touch that object.” I don’t use “leave it” to mean “leave that other dog alone,” as some people do. How about you?)
There is more than one way to teach a dog “leave it,” but here’s what I did:
- With highly valued treats on hand (like real chicken), place a lower-valued but tempting item on the ground (like a dog biscuit) and say “leave it.”
- If your dog moves towards the treat on the ground, block him and calmly say “no, leave it.”
- Wait about 2 seconds, then reward him with one of the higher-valued treats. Really praise him!
- Over several days and weeks, slowly add more distance between you, your dog and the item and wait longer before rewarding your dog.
- Over time, eventually ask your dog to “leave it” for more challenging items like jerky treats, ham slices or a raw knuckle bone.
For my retrieving nut, a stack of tennis balls is a good challenge.
Challenging your dog with leave it
Since my dog will “leave it” for anything in our living room but apparently not in all real world situations, I came up with these ideas for continuing to work on this command:
1. Practice “leave it” in different environments – every room of the house, outside in the yard, on walks, during play, etc.
2. Practice “leave it” when your dog is excited and less likely to “listen.” Like, in the middle of play. Just make sure you’re able to follow through and block your dog if necessary.
3. Avoid using “leave it” if you know your dog won’t obey.
4. Practice “leave it” on walks by placing high-valued items on the ground in advance. Weird, how’d that sandwich get there? 🙂 And of course, reward with something just as good!
5. Practice “leave it” with real-world items you are most concerned about. You know, like garbage, rabbit poop, manure, dead fish. Yep, you might have to actually seek out some disgusting stuff!
6. If it’s safe, reward your dog with the original item! I believe Dr. Patricia McConnell wrote about this in one of her books. She had asked her dog Tulip to drop a dead squirrel, and the dog obeyed! So McConnell rewarded her dog by letting her have the dead squirrel! Talk about positive reinforcement!
7. Get in the habit of rewarding with something better so your dog will automatically “leave it” to get a potential reward. “Good boy!” just won’t cut it sometimes.
How about the rest of you?
What are some good tips or tricks for reinforcing the “leave it” command?
What is something disgusting your dog has eaten or rolled in lately?
Check back tomorrow for my post on using “leave it” to mean “ignore that other dog.” Read it here!