Leave it!” A Good First Step
Dogs evolved as scavengers, and even though most dogs no longer need to scavenge for food to survive, the instinct to sniff out and eat anything and everything that even vaguely resembles food remains an extremely strong doggie drive. That’s why training your dog to “leave it!” is one of the most useful skills you can teach him. Just think of the possibilities! You can stop your dog from investigating that lovely smelly dead squirrel carcass, or that tasty pile of rabbit poop. You will also be able to stop your dog from investigating potentially dangerous items, such as that chocolate icing you’ve dropped on the kitchen floor, or the glass jar that has shattered everywhere.
The trick to training your dog to “leave it” is to trump that incredibly strong scavenger impulse. The technique is similar to the one used to have him reliably come when called. You need to train your dog that when you say “Leave it!”, he will be rewarded for doing so with something even better than the item he is about to investigate with his mouth.
Have at the ready small pieces of hotdog wiener in your hand or pocket. You may want to keep these in a plastic baggie of some kind since they are greasy. Meanwhile, show your dog that you have a ‘boring’ treat, such as a piece of kibble or a dog biscuit in your other hand. Tuck this treat into your hand and hold your closed fist out toward your dog. Say “leave it!” in a firm voice, just once, and thereafter say and do nothing. Ignore all entreaties from your dog to give him the treat in your closed hand, including smelling, licking, gnawing, whining and barking. As soon as he pulls his head away from your closed fist and looks away or up at you, say “Good!” or “Yes!” and immediately give him the even better treat – a piece of hotdog wiener.
Repeat this technique until your dog is immediately backing off from your hand as soon as you say “leave it”. Most likely he will catch on to what is happening fairly quickly and immediately shift his attention to your other hand to get the wiener treat. This is a good first step. The next step will be to have him shift his attention to your face. We will look at that in the next blog.