One of the biggest concerns families have in relation to their dogs during the holidays is keeping things that don’t belong to the dog away from the dog.
While management in the form of securing hazardous items away from dogs is a good idea, training in addition to management is an added safety and convenience feature. The holiday season brings things in to the environment that dogs have a tendency to want to explore such as decorations, food, and gifts; these things can be more than just a nuisance for your dog to get in to – they can be dangerous. Whether you want to avoid having these things eaten, chewed up, or stolen – what you really want is for them to be left alone.
When Teaching ‘Leave It’ There Are Two Very Important Things:
First, ‘leave it’ is forever, don’t let the dog have the thing it was told to leave alone.
Second, do not punish the dog for trying to get the forbidden object; instead reward the dog for leaving it alone. Teaching this cue takes a little bit of patience, a forbidden object, and lots of small rewards.
Show your dog the forbidden object, usually a treat, and then close it in your fist so your dog can not get it. Wait patiently until your dog leaves the object alone, even if it is by accident. The first time sometimes takes a while. As soon as your dog leaves the treat alone say ‘good’ and give a treat from your other hand. It is important to use both of your hands so the dog does not think it got the forbidden treat. Do this for two or three repetitions. Now, in a neutral tone of voice say ‘leave it’ one time and wait until your dog does, then reward saying ‘good’. Resist any urges to discourage your dog from getting the treat, just hold your closed hand in place, wait, and reinforce what you want to see more of.
The next step is to open your hand holding the treat in your palm. Say ‘leave it’ and praise if your dog leaves it alone offering rewards away from the forbidden item. If your dog does not leave it alone close your hand so it is secure. When you can leave the treat in your open palm it is time for the next step.
The next step is to put the treat on the ground. Cover the forbidden treat with your hand or foot and say ‘leave it’. Wait until your dog leaves it alone and praise then reward when it does.
If your dog masters ‘leave it’ your dog will no longer be interested in the forbidden treat.
You can make it harder by uncovering the ‘leave it item’, making the forbidden treat more a tempting one, or even practicing with moving objects – feel free to get creative. Be sure to practice with your holiday decor and food before the big event so your dog understands that those things are off limits too.
Krystal Ellingson CDBC CPDT-KSA
Krystal Ellingson CDBC CPDT-KSA, is the founder of Speak Dog, the first dedicated ‘positive’ dog training company in the Tri-City area where she lives. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer with both Knowledge and Skill accreditations with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers along with a list of other credentials, certificates, and affiliations.