'Tis the season for food in abundance and lavish celebrations. Kitchen counters, coffee tables, and dining room tables hold feasts not seen every day. Temptations are plentiful. It is difficult for humans to control their impulses in the face of so many temptations. Yet many people expect their dogs to ignore similar temptations without having taken the time to train them to do so.
Bing show off his "leave it" behind a
cutting board with words written in hot dogs.
Do you banish your crew from family gatherings? Or do you include them, but live in fear of a guest dropping a morsel of food? Fear no more; train instead!
“Leave It”, the cue to a dog to ignore something, is a behavior that should be taught from day one, but it’s never too late to start. If you train your dogs not to assume they can have every bit of food they want, you and your pups can avoid frustration. Until your dog’s training is perfected, practice good environmental management. This includes not leaving enticing things within reach on counters, tables, floors, etc.
Never reward your dogs in any way for jumping up on the same raised surfaces. If you drop something onto the floor that you want your dogs to have, pick it up and hand deliver it to them rather than pointing it out. This is an especially good practice when you have multiple dogs, because a lone high-value morsel on the floor is a recipe for a brawl in some households!
Teaching a wordless Leave It takes time. The length of time and the amount of work an owner will need to devote to this behavior will vary with each dog. Some dogs naturally have better impulse control than others, and some dogs simply learn faster. It is imperative that you teach this behavior one-on-one with each dog prior to trying it in a group, especially if you have any guarding issues within your household!
Wordless Leave It? Yes, indeed, wordless. Do you really want to have to endlessly tell your dogs to leave things alone, especially at this time of year, when there are so many temptations? Wouldn’t it be more convenient to have them do it without being asked? This behavior can easily be taught.
• Take a really high value treat in one hand and show it to your dog. Have more of the same treats in your other hand ready to offer as a reward. Put that hand behind your back.
• If your dog licks and paws at your offered hand to try and get the treat, don’t say anything. Wait for him to stop attempting to get the treat, however briefly that may be. It may take a bit and you may have to wear thin gloves to prevent your hand from getting scratched! Do not say anything to try to get your dog to stop, just be patient. The second your dog stops trying to get the treat or looks or backs away from the treat, even for a second, click and offer multiple treats from your other hand. Be sure to be very enthusiastic in rewarding your dog verbally for a job well done. The timing of the click is important. It marks your dog’s good decision. The treat immediately follows the click.
• Switch hands while working on your wordless Leave It. And be sure your dog ALWAYS receives something better than he left and NEVER gets the Leave It treat.
• Next, place the treat under your foot on the floor. Repeat the already described protocol, rewarding appropriately. The floor placement will make this exercise harder at first, regardless of how well your dog just did on the previous step. When your dog understands this step, it’s time to move on.
• For the next step, you will partially uncover the treat on the floor, being very careful that you can cover it with your foot before your dog can take it if he moves to take it. Look out for those long tongues. Remember, you will not be verbally correcting your dog at all. Your role is to click and reward the behavior you want.
• Next you will uncover the treat even more, again taking care to cover the treat if your dog attempts to get it. It is importance that you move at the speed that your dog needs in order to solidify this behavior. This is not a competition. Your goal is to train this into a solidly understood behavior.
Teaching a wordless "leave it" to your dogs, no matter how many, will make your holidays much more enjoyable.
•Once your dog can successfully leave a treat on the floor, begin dropping the treat from about an inch off the ground directly next to your foot. Be prepared to cover the treat with your foot if the dog moves towards it. Again, click and reward for the dog NOT trying to take the treat.
• When you dog can watch you drop the treat without trying to take it, slowly increase the height from which you are dropping the treat.
• An 80-90% success rate (or 4 out of 5 successful repetitions) within an individual training session the cue to move forward to the next step. End each session on a positive successful note.
• Practice this behavior in any room you will need it in as well as outdoors if appropriate.
• The dog will NEVER get the Leave It treat, which represents anything you do not want your dog to have (chocolate, the holiday turkey, the cookie from a 5 year old hand).
• The dog should also ALWAYS get something better than what he leaves.
The holidays should be a fun time for all. Training your crew to ignore yummy feasts by teaching them that they get paid well for good decisions is a win/win situation for all.
Wishing you and yours a happy and safe holiday season, regardless of what holiday you personally celebrate, from me and mine.
Debby McMullen PawsitiveReactions.com
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