Risë VanFleet

Teaching LEAVE IT! to a Dog

AAPT, Professionals

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MESSAGE FROM KIRRIE: Hi Everyone, Here is a picture of me doing Leave It! with cheeseballs! And this note comes with a video of none other than ME!! Leave It is one of the best things you can teach your dog, or so I’m told by humans. To me, it’s just a game that pays big dividends to me! I leave tempting things alone, and I get some good treats for it! The Typist has written up an explanation about teaching this skill to your dog, and the video link is included here, too!  Woofs, Kirrie

Here I am (Kirrie) demonstrating Leave It! with 2 cheeseballs on each foot!

Video that accompanies this Note: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njDGO92ni2w&feature=youtu.be

Leave It is a very useful behavior for you to teach your dog. It provides a cue for you to use when your dog is tempted by something you’d rather that he/she would avoid. Its use in play therapy is described later. There are many different ways to teach this behavior, but we’ll focus on just one that seems to work well. The goal is for your dog to look away from the tempting item and look at you instead.

Behaviors your dog should already know: Sit, Stay, Down, and Watch Me. If you’ve played the Eye Contact “Game” and have gotten to hold the treats quite close to get the eye contact, it will be helpful in teaching this next behavior.

How to Start

Ask your dog to Sit-Stay. Take a treat (we’ll call this the “food item”) and place it on the floor quite far away from the dog (3 feet or so). Give a verbal cue as you take your hand away from the food item, saying Leave It in a pleasant tone of voice. If you choose, you can also give a hand signal, such as holding up one finger, but that is not always necessary – just try to be consistent each time.

Because you’ve taught your dog to make eye contact, he or she is likely to look at you, and this is exactly what you want. For the first few times, do not make your dog wait very long at all. As long as the dog does not go for the food item on the floor and then looks in your direction (eye contact not necessary at first), say YESSSSS!   and, here’s the important part – GIVE THE DOG A TASTY TREAT FROM YOUR HAND! Avoid telling the dog to go eat the food item on the floor. Have a treat ready in your hand while you are placing the food item on the floor, and the one in your hand is the one you give as the reward while you pick up the food item from the floor. If you do it this way, your dog will begin to focus more on you than the treat.

Each time, as the dog is eating the treat you’ve given, pick up the food item from the floor. Repeat this process until the dog can wait a longer period of time without trying to get the food item on the floor–at least 5-10 full seconds. At times, things might go wrong and the dog might get the food item on the floor. It’s not the end of the world, and don’t correct the dog when this happens. Just try to minimize this (this means you have to be quick to pick it up from the floor!). Once your dog is waiting for 5-10 seconds and looking at you for the treat, you are ready to move the food item on the floor closer to your dog.

Now place the food item about a foot closer to the dog and do the activity again. Once your dog is successful at least 5 times in a row at this distance, move it closer. Again, once your dog is successful, move it closer yet again. If your dog slips up and begins going for the food item on the floor, it means you are moving too fast – go back a step and make sure that your dog’s Leave It is solid before moving the food item closer.

You can practice all this while the dog is sitting, and then while the dog is in a Down. Remember to practice just one thing at a time until your dog gets the behavior every time. Then move to the next step.

When you reach the point where your dog can do the Leave It with the food items right at the end of his or her feet while in a Down position, try placing just one food item on one foot, saying Leave It, waiting just a couple seconds, and treat from your hand as you pick up the food item from the foot (just as you have been doing with the food items on the floor). This can be a little more difficult for some dogs. Have patience and go slowly. Before you know it, your dog will be able to leave the food item that is on his or her paw. At this point, you can experiment with putting food items on both paws, adding more food items, using different types of food items or toys–anything that is tempting to the dog. It’s still important to make just one change at a time, though.

Tips, Considerations, and Applications

This is an activity I have used in play therapy with children. Some children actually helped me train Kirrie to do this “trick,” and they were immensely pleased with themselves. Even after a dog knows this, when you have each new child client try it, it won’t necessarily go smoothly. Different children have different movements that might cause a little confusion for the dog, but you can coach them and help them adjust. When I do this with children, I always start with the food items a distance away, as if starting the training from the beginning. It is a very useful AAPT intervention for children who need some work on their focus and patience, while at the same time building their competence in doing what is usually seen as a very cool trick.

This training can be thrown off by extraneous hand movements that you (or children) might make. Take your time and have fun with it. If there are problems, back up to a simpler point and try again, while also being aware of things you might be doing that are confusing the dog.

If the dog has trouble at some point with going for the food item on the floor, it is okay to place your hand between the treat and the dog as a more obvious hand signal that tells the dog to wait, but this often is not needed. Be very careful to avoid touching the dog to hold him or her back. You want the dog to learn to make the right choices in this activity. Again, if your dog has the eye contact behavior down well, Leave It can be relatively easy to accomplish.

You can do Leave It with any item that is desired by the dog, such as a favorite toy.

Clicker Training the Leave It: Alternatives

Here’s a video featuring Emily Larlham that shows a somewhat different way of teaching this behavior using clicker training. The method I wrote about above is the simplest I know that doesn’t require clicker training, but all of these methods work well. The key is to pick just one method of training a behavior and stick to it!



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