I met Milo when he was just eight weeks old. I thought he was the cutest chocolate Lab puppy I ever met. I know… have you ever seen a puppy that wasn’t cute? Milo is four years old now, but when he was about six months old I started taking him out with my morning group of dogs. Now that Milo was a part of the group, there were a few things he would have to learn in order to fit in with the pack. I taught him various basic exercises such as, wait, stay, come, sit and “Find-it”.
“Find-it” is so easy to teach and it’s a wonderful way to get the attention of one dog or even 6 dogs! All I have to do when I’m out with a large group of dogs is say, “Find-it!” and the dogs come running as the treats fall all over the ground. Now Milo always loved this game, but as he grew older he became much more interested in sticks and, most of all, tennis balls. Yes, Milo is one of those labs that is crazy about tennis balls. So, given that Milo understood the concept of “Find-it” with treats, I thought I’d try to use the same exercise but instead of searching for treats have him search for tennis balls. Sure enough, all I had to say was, “Milo find the ball, “Find-it” and off he would go with his nose to the ground in search of any lost balls hiding in the brush and long grass.
Now, the space where I take the dogs for their morning outing is a very large, open marshland area that has many large Pampas Grass plants scattered throughout the middle of it. These ornamental grasses grow quite large with long, thick, graceful blades and delightfully fluffy off-white plumes, which grow up through the middle like a floral decoration. The long leaves are very coarse and sharp to the touch, but the dogs love to run through them and rub themselves against them.
One morning at the marsh Milo was looking a bit bored so I told him to go and “find” a ball! So, off he went searching with high hopes of finding one. Not long after I sent Milo on his search I happened to hear a loud crash in the brush. I couldn’t imagine what caused the noise because at that moment my group and I were the only ones there. I continued to walk ahead and as I rounded the bend with the other dogs I happened to see something moving in the middle of a clump of Pampas Grass. As I got closer, I was trying to figure out what it was that was moving back and forth in the middle of the plant, I finally realized it was a tail! Yes, Milo’s tail! That crazy Lab went head-first and dove into the middle of the 5 foot tall clump of pampas grass. I was laughing so hard wishing someone were here to witness this when Milo’s head popped up out of the top of the bush with a tennis ball stuck in his mouth. Just as I called out to him he disapeared again head first down into the grass. I tried calling him to come out, but only halfheartedly because, at this point, it had become quite entertaining. All of a sudden, POP! out came Milo with two balls in his mouth. He leaped into the air out of the clump of grass and took off running looking quite proud of his find.
Now, I said to myself, what on earth gave Milo the idea to search for a ball in the Pampas grass? And then I remembered… when the dogs would get too crazy over a ball and I would have to take it from them, I would usually toss it high up into the middle of the Pampas grass so they couldn’t get to it. I thought it was a great idea because there is no way they could possibly jump up that high or get down into the middle of the grass. Well, let me tell you, the old saying really applies to Milo…“if there’s a will, there’s a way,” Milo’s way!
Have fun when teaching “Find-it.” Dogs love this exercise and, why not, there is always a reward of some kind that follows! It’s important to use high value treats when you teach this exercise, because you are trying to redirect your dog’s attention away from something. Usually the more scent the treat has the better. You’re asking him to come back for a treat instead of chasing that fast rabbit that just ran by! Omega Fields’ Omega Nuggets™ make a great “Find-it” treat. They have a strong, appealing smell that dogs love. Another great dog training investment is a treat bag. Most pet stores carry a variety of these. They usually hook on easily to your belt or clip in the back like a fannypack. Load up your treat bag everytime you go for a walk or an outing with your dog. Before you start out, ask the dog for a “sit” or any basic command and give him one of the treats you are carrying. Then, let him get out a little ahead of you and call him back and give him a treat. Now your dog knows that you have treats and are willing to dole them out.
Once your dog has learned the basics of “Find-it” there are endless reasons to use it to redirect your dog’s attention:
Another dog approaching or a wild animal off in the distance
If he is going for an object you don’t want him to have, such as something edible or a non-edible item like a childs toy
To catch his attention before he takes off down the road or heads off into the woods off the walking path
To get him off furniture or out of the car
To get him to change directions on an outing or walk when he is not on a leash. Simply toss a few treats in the new direction ahead of you and say, “Find-it.”
Start out by taking a treat and toss it on the ground close by the dog and say, “Find-it.” Once he gets the hang of it you can expand the distance that you toss the treat. If he doesn’t see where you tossed it, guide him by pointing to the treat and when he finds it say, “Yes!” Let his attention wander and then throw a treat and give the command again. When the dog is breaking away from what he is doing and coming over every time you say “Find-it,” increase the challenge by having someone create a diversion. Use a friend with a toy or another dog. When your dog turns his attention to the diversion, call his name and say, “Find-it” and toss a treat. Increase the diversions until you can get your dog to break away every time.
“Find-it” is also a wonderful way to engage your dog to interact with you and play. You can have someone take your dog to another room while you hide treats for him to find upon his return. When he returns simply tell him to, “Find-it.” Dogs have an instinctive hunting mode and most dogs find it enjoyable to look for things. If your dog is bored from being home alone all day while you’re at work, a ten minute game of “Find-it” works wonders to re-energize them and give them attention.
“Find-it” is a great tool to have in your dog training tool box. When a big diversion is needed to get your dog to come to you and “Come” just isn’t working, “Find-it,” when effectively taught, will overcome many enticing distractions. It is also a great way to entertain and interact with your dog. A healthy dog/owner relationship starts with positive, fun, interactive training.
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.
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