The Importance of Training Your Dog the Leave it and Drop it Cue
The benefits of training leave it and drop it
It is a fact of life that dogs seem to love to get into trouble. They don't do it purposely out of spite, it's just that just like toddlers, given the opportunity they'll engage in inappropriate behaviors just because they haven't been taught otherwise. Puppies will want to mouth everything around them, and dogs with a ''Hoover reputation'' will eat and swallow the most inappropriate items. The number of dogs sent into surgery for eating foreign items they are not supposed to is enormous, and many times it could have been prevented if only the dog knew two simple cues; ''leave it'' and ''drop it''. Teaching these two cues is fairly easy and this article will explain how.
Teaching Drop It
''Drop it'' is a life saving cue all dogs should know. It could literally make the difference between life and death. Say, you drop your pills on the floor and Rover gobbles them up, or say your puppy finds a battery and decides to chew on it, releasing a toxic liquid. ''Drop it'' literally teaches your dog to spit things out on command. You can practice this cue at home and on walks so your dog will be safer.
In order to teach drop it, you need to do some homework. Look for treats that are much higher in value than what you want your dog to drop. Dogs are opportunistic beings, and therefore, they will drop it, but only if it is worth it. You will first start with items of low value and that are safe.
So let's start with a toy. Make the toy appealing and then toss it on the floor nearby you. The moment the dog has the item in his mouth, say ''drop it'' and show the treat. Your dog will drop the toy to get the treat. Repeat several times until your dog gets it, and responds to ''drop it'' even before you show the treat. You don't want to be stuck always showing a treat in order to get your dog to drop it! So start practicing saying "drop it" without showing the treat, just keep it in your pocket or out of sight inside your hand so that your dog doesn't rely on it. When your dog drops, praise and give the treat.
Gradually, work your way to asking your dog to drop higher value items. You will arrive at a point where you can ask your dog to drop a piece of bread or a piece of steak. Remember the golden rule: the item given for ''dropping it'' should always be significantly higher in value than the item dropped.
Generalize the training, by asking ''drop it'' outdoors in a variety of environments and a variety of objects. Once your dog knows the command, make sure you hold ''refresher '' courses every now and then, to keep him up-to-date. As mentioned, this is a life saving cue, always praise for it. However, the command ''leave it'' may be much more significant than the command ''drop it''. We will see it next.
* Update: I used to like to train drop it as explained above, but now I fell in love with Chirag Patel's method seen in the video below. I have found that his classically conditioned approach yields amazing results.
An automatic ''leave it'' for when you are not around
Teaching Leave it
While ''drop it'' is telling a dog ''spit whatever is in your mouth, ''leave it'' is telling your dog ''ignore that tempting item you are planning to pick up with your mouth''. It can be helpful therefore in a variety of circumstances. I personally prefer ''leave it'' than ''drop it'' for a variety of reasons. Here are three:
1) you rather tell a dog ''leave it'' upon seeing a dead mouse rather than asking your dog to ''drop it,'' yuk!
2) ''leave it'' puts your dog more up for success since it is telling the dog ''don't do it'' rather than ''do it'' as in drop it
3) ''drop it'' is more risky business because your dog may run away with whatever it has in its mouth, there are chances he/she may refuse to drop it and gulp it down, or at times, a dog may even resort to resource guarding the item if it is perceived as being very high value. In other words, preventing is better!
How to Train Leave It
You can teach it initially by keeping a tasty treat in your hand on your open palm. The moment she goes near it, say ''leave it'' and close your palm. When she gives up, praise and give a different treat from your other hand. Then open your palm again, the moment she tries again to get it, repeat ''leave it'' and close your hand, praise and give a different treat from another hand. Continue until she no longer tries to get the treat and you can leave it on your open hand in plain view. At this point, praise your girl and give a jackpot of treats from your other hand.
Since most dogs think things on the floor are their possession, you can now work by putting a treat on the floor. When she tries to get it, say ''leave it'' and cover it with your foot. Upon giving up, give a different treat from your hand. Continue until you can keep the treat in plain view and she no longer tries to get it. At this point, again, praise and give a jackpot of different treats from your hand.
Giving a different treat it important. If one day say you are walking your girl and she passes a dead mouse, when you say ''leave it'' obviously you will not give the dead mouse as a reward but a treat from your hand!
Therefore, work on ''leave it'' at home with socks, shoes and other high value items. The moment you say ''leave it'' she should leave it and automatically look at you for her well-deserved treat. You may need to carry a treat pouch with you the first days, but once she gets it, you may start rewarding on a variable schedule, every now and then. When you are not giving treats,always make a big deal about ''leaving it'' praise lavishly, give a nice butt scratch or offer a toy she is allowed to play with.
*Note: Once your dog is reliable on responding to the 'leave it' command, you can then practice it with life distractions such as squirrels on walks, joggers and other dogs. You want your dog to look at you upon hearing leave it, in hopes of getting a treat.
A great way to train drop it
For further reading
- How to Stop Your Dog from Stealing Your Laundry - Yahoo! Voices - voices.yahoo.com
Socks, knee-highs, and even your underwear can be highly sought items for your canine companion. Learn why and how to deal with this problem.
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