By Eric Gillaspy CPDT-KA
Does your dog dive for food on the floor, especially when someone drops it? This can be extremely dangerous if the food is poisonous or harmful to them. I use “leave It” as an emergency word to get the pup to focus on me and forget about what they were focusing on. Really, it just means to look at me.
There are a lot of things in our human world that can be dangerous to dogs. “Leave it” is one way that we can keep our dogs safe from things that may be dangerous. The best time to practice is not when you actually need your dog to “leave it.”
“Leave it” should just mean for your dog to look at you and not anything else. Keep it simple. It just means “look at me and GREAT things will happen.”
Get some yummy treats and put your dog on a leash. Hold on to the leash but try not to pull back too much. I recommend using a harness so there is no pressure on her neck or trachea.
Step 1: Capturing the behavior.
Toss a treat out of reach of your dog and wait until she turns to look at you. She will probably hit the end of the leash and then turn to look at you. When she does, say “good leave it” and give her a treat. Repeat the process until your dog doesn’t hit the end of the leash. Right now, you are just trying to capture the behavior and reward it.
Step 2: Adding the cue word.
Say “Leave It” as you throw out the treats. Continue to say “good leave it” when your dog looks at you. Repeat a few times until your dog is looking at you when you say “Leave It.” This behavior will be considered learned when it repeats itself 8 out of 10 times reliably. When it is a learned behavior, move on to step 3.
Step 3: Practice.
Put some treats on the floor with one hand covering them. Have food ready in the other hand. Slowly take your hand off the food as you say “leave it.” If she looks at you, say “good leave it.” If she goes for the food, cover it up with a calm “No” and try again. Once your dog is looking at you when she hears the cue of “Leave It” and not going for the food, move on to step 4.
Step 4: Walk by.
Have your pup on a leash and some food on the floor. Walk slowly towards the food and say “leave it” as you approach the food and are about 3-4 feet away. Say “good leave it” if she looks at you. Say “No” if she goes for it and walk away. If your pup is having a hard time, back up a step and then move on.
Remember that “leave it” is an emergency word that means simply “look at me.” Try not to overuse it, your dog may become desensitized to it.
Once your pup has this behavior mastered, have “leave it” drills. Have someone drop something “on accident” and sharpen your dog’s new skills so if a situation arises and you REALLY need your dog to “leave it”, you will have a great way to keep your pup safe and happy.