With a history as scavengers, it should come as no surprise the fact that dogs are prone to ingesting a vast array of edible and non-edible items. While eating a few crumbs left under the dining room table may seem like an innocent pastime, there are several toxic and potentially harmful substances dogs may ingest. Whether it’s a piece of baker’s chocolate that accidentally fell to the ground, a dead mouse, or a pill that was left on the table, dogs are at high risk of exposure to potentially harmful substances, especially those opportunist fellow dogs who tend to gobble up just about anything that comes their way.
Why are Dogs This Way?
Despite being domesticated, dogs are naturally prone to binging. Their motto is to basically stuff themselves as much as they can in the case they must face hard times ahead. Dogs indeed are often seen spending lots of time simply trotting around the house or yard in search of some goodies. They don’t do this consciously though; it’s more of an instinctive matter. Of course, they’re not aware of the fact that their dog owners will always make sure they have a constant supply of food and many are even willing to head to the feed store when there’s several feet of snow on the ground so not to leave their companions starving!
Despite the fact that searching for tasty morsels is a behavior linked to survival, the fact that certain items can cause GI distress remains problematic, especially for certain pooches with sensitive stomachs. On top of that, in some cases, certain items are wolfed down whole without much chewing and risk causing choking or may end up lodging into the dog’s intestinal tract. So while scavenging may look like a fun way to spend the day, it sometimes can turn out being a pricey, and most of all, dangerous pastime.
Protecting Fido From Problems
How can these dogs be protected? This may appear like an arduous task; after all, things fall to the ground all the time, courtesy of gravity, and dogs are very fast in ingesting them even before the owner has time to bend down and pick them up! In this case, the “leave it” command can come handy and can ultimately prove to be a life saver. Along with the recall command, the leave it command can do wonders in keeping a dog safe.
What exactly is the “leave it command?” This is a command that tells the dog to stay away from something, whether it’s an object on the floor or a tempting stimulus present on walks. It trains the dog a good level of impulse control and gives him a boundary to respect. For instance, the leave it command may turn out helpful in many situations such as when the dog is walking by dangerous items found on the sidewalk or when the dog happens to see the neighbor’s cat.
Step-by-Step: Training The Leave it Command
In order to train this command, dog owners will need a low-value treat to keep in one hand and a higher-value one to keep out of sight such as inside a treat bag or a pocket. The value of the treat is determined by the dog, so it’s best to know what food items the dog likes best and what food items he finds “so-so.” The ultimate goal is to train the dog that when he leaves something alone it’s worthy to do so as he gets something even better. Following is a step-by-step guide on training a dog how to “leave it.”
- The dog owners kneel down at the dog’s level with a low-value treat in his hand.
- The moment the dog heads toward the treat the owner firmly says “leave it” and then closes his hand covering the treat. The dog at this point may lick the hand, paw at it or may bark out of frustration.
- At some point though, the dog will shows signs of giving up or acting disinterested such as turning his head the other way or leaving. The moment this happens, his behavior should be marked with a “yes!” or a click of the clicker.
- Immediately, the dog is fed the treat from the pocket that is superior in value than the treat kept in the hand.
- The sequence should be repeated over and over for about 10 times. At some point, the dog will be faster and faster in leaving the treat in hopes of getting the better treat. When this happens, criteria can be raised, and the dog owner can try to ask the dog to “leave it” even when the treat is in the open hand in plain view. This open-hand exercise should also be repeated several times.
- Further criteria can be raised at this point by placing a low-value treat on the floor. Most dogs by nature believe that anything on the floor belongs to them, so this can be a bit more challenging than the open-hand exercise. Once the item is on the floor, the dog will try to get it. The owner should say “leave it” covering the item with his shoe.
- The moment the dog backs off and looks at his owner in hopes for a better treat, the behavior is marked and the dog gets the higher value treat from the pocket or treat bag. After several repetitions, criteria can be further raised by no longer covering the treat on the floor with the shoe and leaving it in plain view because the dog no longer tries to get it.
- It’s not a bad idea to further practice by putting the dog on leash and walking by a treat on the floor saying “leave it” and rewarding the dog with a higher value treat for leaving it. Afterward, the dog can be further trained to generalize the “leave it” command using other items such as toys, animals and other tempting distractions placed as “baits” in different, obvious locations on walks.
Tips for Teaching Leave it
- It’s important to never allow the dog to have the item used for training leave it. After all, in a real scenario, the dog won’t be granted access to something potentially harmful!
- It’s always a good idea to carry treats on walks so to be ready to promptly reward compliance when asking to “leave it.”
- After a dog is fluent in understanding the “leave it” command, distance can be added to the equation. Dogs can be asked to “leave it” while the owner is at a distance such as from the opposite side of the room. The treats and items used to practice “leave it” can also be gradually higher in value, but the reward must always be of the highest value.
- The leave it command should always be perceived by the dog as a fun and rewarding game.
- Punishment-based methods will only lead to a dog that is frightened and lacks trust in the owner. Punishment may also cause a dog to be reluctant to give up an item.
- It’s also important though to teach the dog also the drop it command as a back-up should the dog fail one day to leave an item and tries to take off with it.
- As with other training commands, it’s best to keep “leave it” training sessions brief and upbeat. Tediously long training sessions can cause a dog to lose focus causing stress and frustration.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
- When walking on leash, it may happen that despite saying “leave it” the dog will still try to pull to get to the item in question. In this case, it may be helpful to walk farther from a distance and repeat the exercise until the dog responds better.
- Dogs with a history of being chased when grabbing something they’re not supposed to have may quickly grab an item and try to run away with it. To prevent this, it’s best to initially train the leave it command with the dog on leash.
- It may occasionally happen that the dog is very quick and gets to the item he is asked to leave. In that case, it’s not worth it punishing the dog. Better to be more watchful next time and work from a greater distance.
- It’s important to realize that the “leave it” command works mostly in the owner’s presence. Dogs shouldn’t be expected to leave items when they are left alone. If dogs need to left alone for brief times during the day, it’s important to remove any tempting things they can get into, or better, keep the dog crated and out of trouble.
The Bottom Line
As seen, the leave it command is very important as it can turn out saving a dog’s life. Each year, countless dogs get in contact with toxic foods or ingest large items that will then require surgery to get them out. These incidents could have been prevented! Thankfully the leave it command can ultimately help keep Oliver safe and out of trouble while preventing dog owners from paying for very costly veterinarian visits.