Good Dog: Leave That Alone, Please!
Teach your dog to keep his nose out of trouble.
by Johanna Teresi
Does your dog stick his nose or mouth in places that it doesn't belong? As soon as you drop food on the floor or turn your back to the meat on your kitchen counter, it's gone! Maybe he even jumps on your children to grab a burger out of their hands. During walks your dog's nose is glued to the ground, and as soon as he spots some leftover fries, they are history. Or maybe your puppy still grabs forbidden objects. All of the above can be remedied with one simple command: "Leave it."
Teach the "leave it" command in consecutive steps. On each step, the idea is not to use a command until we can predict that the "leave it" behavior will occur promptly. When you present the object that you want your dog to leave, your dog should perform one of the following actions: head turning, backing up or looking at your face. Each of these behaviors, show self-control – "leave it behavior" (LIB). Practice each of the steps below with a variety of different objects, such as your dog's toys and human food. Also, practice each step in a variety of environments: different rooms in your house, at friends' houses and during walks. If your dog is clicker trained, click and treat when your dog exhibits LIB.
The first and easiest step involves a treat in your closed hand. The treat should be completely invisible to your dog as you present your hand before his muzzle. Keep your hand stationary. Your dog will naturally lick, paw, bite, and maybe bark to try to get the treat. (Please consult a professional reward-based trainer if your dog's barking or biting is obsessive or injures someone.) If your dog bites your hand or barks, immediately move your hand behind your back or just walk away. Wait and then re-present your hand. Eventually, your dog will give up and exhibit LIB. Say, "leave it" at this time and immediately treat your dog from your opposite hand while, saying, "take it." Give the treat to your dog between your thumb and pointer finger rather than in your open palm. He is learning that "leave it" is distinctly different than "take it." Place the treat-bearing "leave it" hand behind your back and re-present it. Repeat this until your dog performs the LIB as soon as the treat-bearing hand is presented. At this point in the training, you will say, "leave it" immediately before or simultaneously with presenting the concealed treat, and your dog should promptly demonstrate LIB rather than trying to get the object. Repeat this part of the training at least 10 times.
For the next step you will present a treat directly under your dog's muzzle, but this time the treat rests in your open palm. Your hand will remain stationary except for opening or closing it. If your dog attempts to snatch the treat, close your hand. When he moves away from the hand, open it again. Repeat opening and shutting until your dog exhibits LIB with the visible treat in your open hand. Immediately say "leave it" when the LIB is displayed. Then say, "take it" and treat your dog from your opposite hand. Place the treat-bearing "leave it" hand behind your back and re-present it. Once your dog readily displays LIB with your open hand, say "leave it" as soon as you present the treat. Repeat at least 10 times.
Perform the same process, but now work on the LIB with a treat under your foot. Then you will work on the LIB with the treat visible on the ground and your foot covering and uncovering the treat until your dog displays the LIB with the treat uncovered.
Now the fun begins as you incorporate the command in your dog's everyday life. If your dog has trouble, review any of the above steps with the object. When your guests drop food on the floor, surprise them with your dog's excellent response to a "leave it" command.
Johanna Teresi is a professional dog trainer and owner of Four Legged Scholars LLC. fourleggedscholars.com. Find out more about professional rewardbased dog training at APDT.com.