Written By Leigh Pyron
A few years ago I was invited to Thanksgiving dinner by a good friend of mine. There were 15 people in all and everyone was focused on drinks, conversation and preparation. It was just about time for everyone to take their seats as the turkey was being pulled out of the oven. My friend’s husband carved the turkey, filled a plate full of freshly carved meat and walked away from the bird to deliver the plate to the table of hungry guests. No one paid much attention or noticed that the big yellow Labrador named Bandit had somehow escaped from the bedroom where he had been secured until the food portion of the festivities were over.
Labs are pretty well known for their voracious appetites when it comes to human food and Bandit was no exception. As the turkey was being delivered to the dining room I saw Bandit, out of the corner of my eye, enter the kitchen. I looked from the dog to the bird and realized what was about to happen. I got up out of my chair and ran to the kitchen yelling for Bandit to “leave-it” as he went for the turkey. I was too late and all that could be heard was the loud crash of the plate hitting the floor. There in front of me stood good old Bandit covered in turkey juice with a big turkey leg hanging out of his mouth. He was looking at all of us like “What? It’s just a drumstick…” What else could we do but laugh! Thank goodness we at least saved one plate-full of turkey to feed the humans.
“Leave-it” is a valuable command for many situations. It should be one of the first things that you teach your puppy. It’s uses are endless, but these are a few things that come to mind
· Leaving food and clothing items alone
· Staying out of the garbage
· Leaving another dog’s toys or food alone
· Stop eating or rolling in foul things on the trail or walk
· Stop an attempt to go towards another dog or a cat, coyote, skunk or any other animal
Try to be alert and proactive whenever you use this exercise. “Leave-it” works best if you use it the second before your dog gets a chance to react to something. In the beginning, be consistent by rewarding him every time he does what you want with a treat that has a high value to the dog, like chicken or hot dogs or any strong-scented and appealing dog treat like Omega Fields’ Omega Nuggets. After a few weeks or so you can begin to treat him every other time or less, and reward him alternately with praise and affection or even a favorite toy. Most importantly, have fun with this exercise. You will be very surprised how fast your dog will pick it up, and how often you will use it! Be sure to keep a positive, friendly tone in your voice whenever you practice this. Training should always be fun for you and your dog.
This training exercise can be done from the floor or from a standing position.
“Leave-it” Floor Position
Take a large piece of treat in your right hand and show the dog the treat. Then put the treat on the floor and quickly cover it with your hand. Let him try to get at it by sniffing and licking at your hand. The minute he stops touching your hand say, “Yes” and reward him with a treat from your left hand. Be sure to keep the treat in your left hand out of sight by holding it behind your back while he works to get the treat from the right hand. Repeat this three times. The fourth time you do it add the words “Leave-it” as he moves towards your right hand. If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes!” and reward him with a treat from your left hand.
Once you’ve seen that he’s getting the hang of it, start setting the treat on the floor uncovered and say, “Leave-it.” If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes” and reward him. Remember to always guard your treat on the floor and be prepared to cover it up with your hand if he goes for it. Also, never reward him with the “Leave-it” treat, only reward him from the other treat hand.
On occasions when I’m working with a dog or puppy that has been rescued and I don’t know how he may react to food, or when the owner tells me that their dog or puppy is very mouthy or aggressive when he takes treats, I use the standing position to train “Leave-it.”
“Leave-it” Standing Position
Start out by showing the dog the treat in your right hand and then make a fist, closing the treat inside your hand. Now extend your hand out with the fist still closed letting him sniff and lick at your fist as he tries to get at it. The minute he stops touching your hand say, “Yes” and reward him with a treat from your left hand. Again, repeat this three times and on the fourth time add the words “Leave-it” as he moves towards your right hand. If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes!” and reward him with a treat from your left hand.
Once you’ve seen that he’s getting the hang of it, move to showing him the treat in your right hand, leaving your hand open. As he goes for the treat say, “Leave-it.” If he stops or hesitates, quickly say “Yes” and reward him with the treat from your left hand. If he goes for the treat and doesn’t stop, close your fist and start again. Remember, never reward him with the “Leave-it” treat.
After I teach the basics of “Leave-it” I step it up a level and move the training into the kitchen. Almost every client that wants basic obedience training for their puppy always asks me the same questions… “How do I get him to stop going for food and how do I stop him from going for the dirty dishes in the dishwasher?
The first thing I do is ask the client if they have any tasty human food in the refrigerator that I could use to entice their dog with. Once, I even pulled out a whole precooked chicken and set it on the kitchen floor and believe it or not, after successfully perfecting the first stage of teaching “Leave-it”, this dog didn’t even try to go for the chicken! He waited patiently knowing that he would be immediately rewarded with yummy high value treats if he left it alone.
When training the dog to leave the dishwasher alone, I open the dishwasher and pull out the lower rack of dirty dishes. Then I take the same tasty human food from the refrigerator and set it on top of the rack. I use the same steps asking the dog to “leave-it” and immediately rewarding for doing so.
“Leave-it” is a very valuable command and one that every dog owner should teach their dog at an early age. Many of the frustrations of owning a puppy can be nipped in the bud by applying this command early and often. The puppy who will become the adolescent and then adult dog, will know what things are off limits and what things are Ok. Also, always be sure to provide plenty of durable toys for your dog to play with so he won’t look for makeshift toys in the bottom of your closet or the garbage can. Early obedience training is one of the keys to a happy and fulfilling relationship with your dog.