In this exercise we’re beginning to teach our dog the ‘Leave-It’ cue.
I like to teach this first in the context of not picking up something that’s dropped on the floor. Tablets and medications are obvious items that can be toxic and potentially lethal so the last thing you want is your dog rushing over if you drop a tablet on the floor and eating it.
The exercise has lots of other benefits too. We’re going to teach ‘leave-It’ using the Unlock Game which is an example of a choosing game (free-choice exercise).
A choosing game is one where the goal is not to teach a specific cue, but rather to help the dog learn that good choices make good things happen.
Many dogs have very little control over what happens to them on a daily basis. Choosing games bring joy, because they teach dogs that they can get what they want (and please you at the same time) by using their brain and figuring out what you want.
It’s a little hard for me to demo this exercise with Jim as he knows it so well so when presented with a handful of treats he will ignore them and look at me straight away so I’ve included a little bit of footage with Mia as well – she is not quite so reliable especially when cheese is on offer!
Underneath the video is a downloadable guide to starting Leave-It training.
As the first step of this game is to get your dog to ignore food in your hand have separate little training sessions just reserved for this exercise. (If you try and practice it alongside other behaviours which call for your dog to follow / touch your hand you could confuse your dog.)
Have fun! Leave-it is one of my favourites!
Here are two exercises that you can practice with your dog that will really help improve his impulse control and progress his understanding of the ‘Leave It’ cue.
You may find these a little difficult initially but if you keep practising you and your dog will be able to master these exercises and they will really help you start to progress ‘Leave It’ so that you can ask your dog to not only leave food on the floor but also generalise ‘Leave It’ to real world situations like people and other dogs.
When training with new distractions always be ready with super high-value rewards and keep your dog on lead to prevent mistakes and your dog getting access to the distraction.
Training Leave It is like Recall - don’t use the cue if you know your dog won’t respond. You don’t want your dog to practice ignoring you! Instead, go back to training and work that particular distraction into your routine until your dog is successful.
By working through exercises like this your dog will learn to control his impulses. A strong ‘Leave it’ cue means you decide what’s safe for your dog and expanding the cue’s meaning to anything in the environment will help you control your dog’s behaviour in distracting places.