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Teach Your Dog to ''Leave It''

PetSmart Debbie McKnight/Accredited PetSmart Trainer

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“Leave it” can be a lifesaving cue for your dog to know. It can stop him from chasing the cat, eating medication that fell on the floor or stealing your dinner off the TV tray. And it’s not difficult to teach.
 
“Leave it” can be a lifesaving cue for your dog to know. It can stop him from chasing the cat, eating medication that fell on the floor or stealing your dinner off the TV tray. And it’s not difficult to teach.
 
You’ll need a large, boring treat or toy that will fit under your foot. From here on out, I will refer to the treat as "forbidden" because your dog will not be allowed to have it. You’ll also need a bunch of small, yummy treats or rewards and a clicker (or verbal marker – read more about markers. Let your dog see you place the large “forbidden” treat under your foot. He will probably begin to lick, nudge or paw at your foot. Be still and do not say anything. When he stops trying to get the forbidden treat and looks away, click and give him a yummy treat. Uncover the large forbidden treat and when he tries to get it, quickly cover it back up with your foot. Again, as soon as he looks away, click and treat. After five to six repetitions, you will only click and treat if he looks away from the forbidden treat AND looks at you. This is easy because he expects a treat for leaving the forbidden item alone. As soon as you can tell he’s got the idea, you will say, “Leave it” as he looks at the forbidden item. If he doesn’t leave it, cover it up. Try very hard not to let him get the forbidden treat, but if he does, safely take it back from him. If you allow him to steal and eat the cookie, he will just learn to be faster than you! Progress to working on this with forbidden items on the coffee table, couch, counter, etc., and cover them with your hand if necessary. Your goal is to be able to leave anything uncovered and your dog leaves it alone when told.
 
For items that are too large to place under your foot like plants, shoes, the cat or other dogs on a walk, place your dog on leash and keep him out of reach of the item. Tell him one time to “Leave it” and then wait until he looks back at you. When he does, click and treat him. This is easier if you have done the previous step first. To get the hang of it, you ought to practice this with food or toys before moving on to harder items. When he gets good at that, practice walking past it, always keeping the leash short enough that the dog cannot reach the item. If he lunges for it, stop walking, tell him to “leave it” and when he does, click/treat and keep walking. Your goal is to be able to walk by something with your dog on a loose leash. Try not to jerk your dog away from the item, but make sure you have the leash short enough that he cannot reach it.
 

Taught properly, using fabulous reward treats, your dog can become proficient at this exercise quickly. This is a hard, unnatural behavior for the dog so be prepared to reward your dog handsomely.

Debbie McKnight is an accredited PetSmart trainer in Hurst, Texas.
 

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