Training Thursday: “Leave It”
February 12, 2009 by Oregon Sunshine
Black Jack’s Carol over at bikesbirdsnbeasts mentioned a couple weeks ago that she’s having a couple issues with Black Jack. Well, when I read that, I realized I could help! After all, I trained dogs professionally before moving back to the lower 48.
So, today, for Carol, I’m going to discuss how to teach Leave It. Leave It is a multi-stepped process that will take a couple weeks for your dog to really get solid at. We’ll break it down.
Expect this to take about a week to be down pat. Let’s not move ahead too fast. We want this command to be really, really solid so we’re going to take it slow and do a lot of repetition.
To teach leave it, I start with two treats, both bite sized. One treat might be a piece of kibble or a piece of a dog biscuit. The other is a high value treat like a bite sized piece of chicken or cheese or roast or something really, really yummy. With one piece in each hand, place the high value treat hand behind your back. Offer the treat hand to Fido enclosed in your fist. Now, Fido will sniff and lick and paw at your hand trying to get it. Firmly say, “Leave it!” like you really mean it. DO NOT give this treat to Fido. Wait until Fido sits or backs off from your fist and is calm. Then praise Fido with a “good boy” and quickly offer the high value treat behind your back. Repeat this several times, a few times a day for a week until Fido is really solid with the command with the treats in your hand. Really, expect this to take a week to be solid. Don’t progress too fast or you’ll have to start over when Fido’s capabilities fall apart.
Is Step 1 really solid? Good! Now, for this first session, practice Step 1 again until you get a couple successes in a row. Now, we’re going to try something different! This time, say “leave it!” and toss the low value treat behind you a couple feet and to the side slightly. It’s very important to say the command first because we want to set Fido up for success. It’s much harder to stop forward momentum at this point too. Remember, Fido is also learning impulse control at the same time.
With Fido in front of you, give the command and toss your low value treat. Don’t let Fido get it! Use your body to block Fido from it. You want to step in front of any movement Fido makes towards the treat. Your job is to block Fido from getting the treat. Move however is necessary, much like a soccer goalie in order to keep Fido from getting the treat. (Remember, we want Fido to succeed here) Some dogs give up quickly, while others will have you dancing around for a while. If your dog is too fast for you to block, feel free to step on the treat. When Fido looks at you, hesitates, sits, backs up a step, reward with the high value treat and a “Good!” and quickly pick up the low value treat. What I want you to look for is any sign of “leaving it”. We want to reward even the smallest try.
Practice this a few times a day, every day until Fido gets really solid at it. We really, really don’t want to move too fast here. Also, don’t use the command in any other instance outside of training, because we don’t want to confuse Fido or have Fido learn to ignore the command. If for instance, Fido grabs your shoe, just go take it from him. However, if you find yourself blurting out the command anyways, be prepared to reward Fido with a “jackpot”, an absolute ton of treats and praise if he somehow actually does back off and leave the item alone.
Practice, practice, practice! Don’t expect miracles. Fido isn’t ready to leave the temptation of a dropped steak on the floor, so let’s remember to not push too far too fast. We want Fido to be successful.
This week we’ll repeat step 2, but with a twist. Now I want you to leave a straight and clear path between Fido and the low value treat. You’ll still be close enough to block, but we’re upping the ante with more impulse control. Reward as before. You can try practicing with toys as well as treats now too. Mix it up a bit as Fido gets it and gets better at it.
If you’re dog is still struggling, don’t worry. It takes longer for some dogs to learn than others. There is no real time line other than not rushing Fido before he’s ready. It’s also ok to back up a step or two and work on solidifying the previous step(s) and give Fido some successes. With practice, repetition and consistency, Fido will learn.
Now that you have the basics for training Leave It
, why don’t you go visit Black Jack’s Carol
? Let’s send some jingles her way to speed her recovery from a horrid bike accident recently!