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Child’s Play
A complete training guide for "leave it"
Stella
Begin with one of the ordinary treats in an open palm. Lower it to where your dog can see it.

Leave-it, a cue that asks your dog to leave something alone, is up there among the most useful things you can teach your dog. Think of it this way: your dog might not stop chasing that deer into traffic on her own, but with an airtight leave-it cue you can stop her in her tracks and save her life. So whether it’s another dog, that slice of pizza on the edge of the counter, a squirrel, the person uninterested in your dog’s attention, or the baby’s toys, anything can be protected from unwanted attention with a well-practiced leave-it. Here’s a short drill you can practice with your dog every day to master this essential technique.

What You’ll Need

  • A hungry dog
  • Two kinds of treats (one far more delicious than the other)


What To Do

Begin with one of the ordinary treats in an open palm. Lower it to where your dog can see it (pictured above).
 

When your dog tries to take the treat, close your hand around it. She will likely nudge at the treat. Ignore this behavior. Ignore any behavior attempting to pry the treat out of your hand. What you’re waiting for is even the slightest hesitation in interest.
 

The moment your dog shows even a fleeting second of hesitation in trying to wrest that treat from your hand, you bring one of the better treats out in your other open palm.
 

The dog gets this treat as a reward for that moment’s hesitation.

In repeating this drill over the course of days or weeks, you are building up your dog’s skills by waiting for incrementally longer hesitations until it becomes clear she is beginning to understand.
 

Here, Stella is showing more restraint than she did the first time she was shown the treat.
 

Still more restraint is being shown here. At this point, you can begin to integrate the verbal cue, saying “leave it” when the dog makes the move for the first treat. If she listens the first time, she gets the better treat in the other hand. If she doesn’t, the fist closes, you wait, and you try again together.

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Elizabeth Kennedy is a freelance writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. elizabethkennedy.org

Photography by Kira Stackhouse

CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Carolyn | November 4 2011 |

Thank you for this clear demonstration. It shows that learning requires a lot of
patience on the part of the teacher and student and lots of positive reenforcement.
Also, thank you for the additional lessons in the lonks at the bottom of the page.
I'm a subscriber.
Thanks again.

Submitted by Elizabeth Kennedy | November 29 2011 |

Thanks for your comments, Carolyn. It *does* take patience on the part of the dog--I try to keep that in mind if/when I bobble a cue or realize I'm being unclear in what I'm asking for. Well-observed. EK

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