If a piece of hot dog or other delicious treat is on the ground and you tell your dog to “Leave It,” will your dog do as you ask or will he run to the food and snarf it up? If the answer is that your dog will eat the food, that is a shame for two main reasons: 1) If the food was spoiled, poisonous to dogs or simply fattening, you missed an opportunity to protect your dog from harm; 2) “Leave It” is easy to teach, yet one of those impressive cues that makes any dog look well trained.
I like having a dog who knows the cue “Leave It” because I can prevent my dog from eating something that could hurt him, because I enjoy having a dog who can do things that make other people think well of him, and because if I happen to drop something (like a whole steak!) while I am cooking, I don’t want to have to go the grocery store again just because I have a dog.
Here’s a video of Tyson, a Pomeranian who visits our family from time to time when his family travels. (They are a military family and sometimes duty calls on short notice.) When told to “Leave It,” Tyson does not go for the cheese I have put on the floor, even though that is one of his favorite treats. (He does, however, receive cheese from my hand to reinforce him for making the right choice.) He is showing how well he can “Leave It” after just a few lessons.
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.