Mama Sally: Normally I don’t post blogs that teach my readers how to train a specific command, because honestly there are lots of wonderful blogs already doing that. Today, however, I feel like I have to make an exception to that.
Weekly, I see dogs getting into trouble by eating something that they shouldn’t, which becomes a bowel obstruction at worse, or makes the dog very sick at the least! Once a dog has something in his mouth, he will quickly swallow it, especially if that object happens to be contraband! Even young puppies learn that you’ll take their prize from them, so they run away, chewing and quickly trying to swallow all at the same time.
Daily, here are some of the things I encounter as I evaluate and train dogs.
- I see dogs greeting me with extreme enthusiasm at the front door, jumping, licking, sometimes playful or excited nipping, while their owners are barking out any of a number of things that the dog is clearly ignoring with great success!
- I hear from owners who are frustrated with their daily walks because their dogs pull to get at interesting smells, other dogs, or people they encounter along the way.
- Dogs are barking at neighbors in the back yard, unwilling to come to their owners and come into the house.
- Medicine gets dropped on the floor accidentally and owners fear that their dogs will pounce on it and eat it.
- Dogs “shop” for things that don’t belong to them at home…often getting objects off tables, kids toys, shoes, etc.
Well, you get the idea, and I’m sure some of you are checking off the list, saying, “Yes, my dog does that…and that….and that…and my goodness, that one too!!
Wouldn’t you love to have better attention and focus from your dog? Absolutely, right? That’s really the deal breaker when you expose your dog to stiff distractions that you’re likely to encounter on a daily or weekly basis. Ultimately, your dog has to learn how to tune out the distractions and focus on his handler.
I train the command “Leave It!” It works in any and all of the above mentioned situations. It’s a really great universal command that means pay no attention to that, and don’t put that in your mouth! Leave it completely alone! Have I got you hooked yet?
This is such an easy command to train, and it can honestly save your dog’s life if you happen to simply drop a bottle of vitamins or aspirin on the floor when your dog happens to be nearby. “Leave It” means, don’t touch that!! It’s not yours!! Let. It. Go…..
To start training this command, you’ll want to be sure that your dog has access to a rug or pad that will allow him to signal easily. I typically work at the edge of a room sized rug covering hardwoods, but any area will work, provided that your dog has a rug available for sitting or laying down. Your dog will be on the rug, and you will be on the hard surface, facing your dog. You’ll have your dog on a loose leash, but you honestly won’t be using your leash much at all. It’s a safety net, and reminds your dog that someone else is in charge.
I start with dog food, provided your dog is very interested in eating it. If you time your training around your dog’s mealtime, you can hand feed part of his meal while training this command all at the same time! However, you can train with any treat that your dog really likes. You’ll have a small handful of food in one of your hands, and your dog on the rug. He should just be hanging around at this point.
Taking one of the bits of food, you’ll drop it behind yourself, and just a wee bit to one side, saying “Leave it” in a firm but regular voice as you drop the bite of food. Naturally, once your dog sees and hears that you’ve dropped a bite of food, he’s going to charge to get it. Don’t say a word, but simply body block your dog from getting to the food, stepping into him to back him up if necessary. If your dog doesn’t go after the food, don’t move. Only step in front of it when your dog tries to get it.
Most dogs will try lots of different ways to solve the problem you’ve presented to them. They’ll try one thing and another, being bullies, being sly and pretending they’re not interested until you drop your guard….various and sundry things, which are all terrific and good in the scheme of learning. Don’t get impatient or frustrated. Dogs always figure things out….they just need time to exhaust all of their possibilities.
Eventually, they’ll give up when they’re convinced that you aren’t going to let them have the bite of food on the floor. To signal that they are giving up and giving in, they will either sit or lay down, and then they must look up at you. Sit and look or down and look. Either one is acceptable, but be sure they look up at you to say, “Okay. Now what?”
At the moment that your dog does this, say, “Yessss” to mark your dog’s behavior, and offer him a bite of food out of your hand. Then, pick up the bite of food that you dropped earlier and give that to your dog as well.
You’re ready to repeat the exercise.
What you’ll notice over time, is that your dog will give up trying to get the bite on the floor quicker and quicker, until finally, your dog will remain sitting or laying down, watch you drop the bite, look up at you and collect two bites of food. Perfect! He gets it! It’s very important that you pick up the food from the floor and hand it to your dog! Most of the time when I use this command in real life settings, Rugby is never going to get what I’ve told him to leave. I want him to know that if I ever say, “Leave It,” the only way he can have the object is if I hand it to him! That way, he’s respecting your leadership and guidance.
This method of teaching this command helps your dog understand that if he insists on trying to get the dropped piece, he’s only going to get one bite. However, if he gives up quickly….he quickly gets two bites, and he really doesn’t have to work very hard to get them! It’s a lot of work for your dog to try to get the dropped bite, and very little effort to give up and stay sitting or laying, look at you, and earn a second bite too! Dogs are smart and they catch on to this very quickly.
Like many of the training techniques that I use, this method helps your dog problem solve and think while he’s working. He will learn to try and give up quickly when his efforts in one direction don’t give him success. And when he figures out the rules to the game, he’s on the gravy train, getting all of the good stuff!
And that’s the big score for owners!! You’re effectively teaching your dog that if he gives up quickly, he’ll be rewarded quickly, and the reward that you’ll give him is better than what he originally started with!
Now…..fast forward with a guest at the front door, that acorn he is trying to score on a walk, that jogger headed your way….you get the picture. When you ask your dog to leave it, you’ve already trained him to look up at you to signal that he gives up, which is exactly what you want your dog to do. You want your dog to learn to look to you when he’s not sure what to do….rather than make executive decisions of his own. This is soooo very important for all dogs, but more so for special needs dogs who tend to be super reactive anyway.
Here are some things to be aware of as you train this command: Dogs don’t generalize things very easily. What that means, is that it’s going to take a long time for your dog to understand that the “Leave It” he learned at home with food on the floor, means exactly the same thing as “Leave It” with a guest coming in the front door, or a passing dog, walker, jogger or car! You’ll need to be patient with your pooch, and keep consistently working with him until he finally generalizes the command.
This command is extremely valuable for special needs dogs, and I’ll let Rugby tell you why!
Rugby James: The Mama has done a very nice job explaining the rules of this training game. This is a game what I likesa play a whole lot on account of it’s super easy to do, and I can get two bites wifout having to do hardly anyfing at all. That’s a good deal for doggers, and the Mama is purty generous in giving me bites when I figure out how to play the game!
Sumtimes the Mama plays this game in the yard when I gotsa skirrel up a tree and I’m barking at it. Or sumtimes, if I’m sniffing really good at sum bunny poopies what might be a nice lil snack, the Mama will say, “Leave It” what means I can’t eat it.
When our neighbors is having a party outside and I can hear guests in the driveway, I likesa bark just sos they can know I live here in case they wanna meet me. The Mama will tell me “That’s enough. Leave It,” what means I gotsa stop barking like crazy.
Well, you can purty much guess that I hear this command a whole big much at my house!! Practically every single day! But I know that if I give up trying to get sumping quick….the Mama gots sumping better for me. Mostly she tells me what a good boy I am, and she rubs my head or my ears, but sumtimes, she gives me a “Jackpot” what means I’ll get 2-3 bites of food or tiny snacks!
One fing I can tell you that’s always really good about the Mama, is that even after she knows I understand a command, she gives me nibbles for a long time….but not every single time. Sumtimes I just get lubbed on and hear nice fings, but sumtimes she gives me a “Jackpot,” so believe me….I wanna give up quick, on account of I might get sumping yummy out of the deal.
When she takes me on an outing, if I gets overly focused on sumping that’s likely to make me fire up, the Mama will say, “Leave It” in her regular voice, and tug on my leash to get me moving away from the distraction what has my attention. It’s always easier for me to listen to her and follow directions if I’m further away from the distraction. Lil by lil, she’s been able to get me closer to fings sumtimes, and that’s the goal. But the Mama’s really good about taking fings slow wif me, and she does short and sweet lil training sessions sos I can have focus and success!!
Give this a try wif your own doggers, and they’ll fank you for all of the fun and the snacks!!