I had some extra time to do some dog training with Ginger, my parent’s Brittany, when I was at their house for several days over the Thanksgiving holiday. One behavior that we have been working on perfecting is Ginger’s “Leave It” cue.
The value of a great “Leave it” cue
Leave it is such a valuable life skill for any dog to learn. It’s really a skill that could save you dog’s life! Imagine that you’re taking some prescription pills and the bottle slips in your hand and you drop half a dozen of them on the floor. Wouldn’t it be nice to tell your dog “Leave it”, and have him back away and look at you, rather than diving to gobble up your medicine? Or, if you’re out on a walk and you see some old food or trash, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell your dog to “Leave it” and then be able to walk nicely past, rather than having your dog pull your arm off as he strains to go investigate? Or, if you’re watching a movie, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to put your bowl of popcorn on the coffee table and know that your dog won’t stick his big nose in it?
Let the games begin!
Although leave it is a really important skill, it’s also one that takes lots and lots of practice before your dog becomes totally reliable at this behavior. You’re asking your dog to exercise quite a bit of self-control if you ask him to leave something really stinky and smelly on the sidewalk and just walk by.
However, there are all sorts of fun games and exercises that you can play with your dog to help teach him a really solid, really reliable leave it. Ginger and I have been having a lot of fun playing leave it games recently. One game we have been playing is something I like to call “Treats on your paws” or “Treats on your toes.”
I start by asking Ginger to lie down. Then, I place a treat on one of her paws. She has to leave the treat alone and look at me instead. When she does, click and treat! Although Ginger has worked on leave it in the past, we had never played this variation of leave it until recently. Ginger caught on pretty fast and now she thinks this is another fun clicker training game.
As you’ll see in the video, I am still giving her treats very frequently for ignoring the treat on her paw. It would be very easy for her to snatch a treat off her paw. So, I want the rate of reinforcement high enough that she doesn’t even stop to think about eating a treat off of her paw. However, as we keep working on this, we will gradually make the game harder by increasing the time between each treat. I will increase the time very slowly, though, so that Ginger can be successful.
Watch on YouTube: Ginger practices “Leave it” with treats on her toes
If you’ve worked on leave it with your dog, give this game a try! I’d love to hear how it goes and if your dog is able to ignore a treat when it is placed on his paw.
If you try this and it is too hard for you dog, that’s okay! Make it easier for your dog to succeed. Start with the treat several inches (or even a foot) away from your dog and gradually move it closer and closer to your dog, until you can try putting it on the dog’s paw. If, at the beginning, the dog tries to eat the treat when you put it on your floor, just cover it up with your hand so that the dog cannot get to it.
If you’ve never tried to teach your dog “Leave it” before, check out Ginger’s Doggie Zen videos to help you and your dog get started.