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Teaching Your Dog To "Leave It"

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Teaching your dog a few simple tricks is fun and entertaining for both you and your pet. It's best if your dog knows and can perform the basic obedience commands of sit, stay and down reliably before advancing to tricks. Most tricks are built on these commands and your dog will have learned to pay attention to you during training sessions.

If your dog has any type of arthritis or degenerative joint disease, check with your veterinarian before proceeding. Even simple tricks can place stress on joints that are painful and sore.

The success of training your dog relies on rewarding correct behavior. Rewards differ from dog to dog; for some it may be food and for others praise. Some dogs will do whatever you want just to have a little playtime. Find the reward that best motivates your dog to learn and work daily in 5 to 15 minute sessions. Keep it fun and end the session with a reward. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or tired, quit and try again later.

The goal of teaching your dog to "leave it" is to stop her from taking something into her mouth or investigating something questionable. Dogs that have already picked up an item are given a different command of "drop it" or "give." The "leave it" command is a very valuable communication to impart to your pet. It will help her learn what is inappropriate to chew, and it may keep her from consuming something harmful or toxic. Some owners teach their pets not to accept anything offered by strangers.

One method to teach your dog to "leave it" is to start by letting her play with a favorite toy for a few minutes while wearing her leash. Introduce a new item by tossing it into her field of vision. Most dogs will show some interest in the new item and will want to investigate. As she approaches, give the command "leave it." Until the command is understood, natural curiosity will prevail; so gently arrest her investigations by using the leash to keep her from advancing. Give her a reward for responding as desired and then let her play with her toy again. Repeat the exercise and use a few different items. Once she stops on hearing the command, try the exercise without the leash.

Another method uses food. Place a treat in your hand. Allow the dog to sniff your hand so she knows there is a treat. Close your hand around the treat and say, "leave it." Keep your hand held out. Your dog may lick at your hand, paw at your hand, or even nudge you to try to get you to give up the goods. Don't cave in and don't repeat the command. You only need to say, "leave it" once. If you keep repeating a word, the dog will not understand that it is a command. As soon as your dog turns away, immediately praise her and give her the treat. Continue to do this exercise over and over until your dog turns away as soon as you say, "leave it."

You will be happy when you can stop your dog from investigating the garbage, feces, a dead animal, or a box of mouse poison, so take the time to teach your dog to "leave it."

The way to success in teaching your dog tricks is patience, practice, praise, and persistence. Every step in the right direction should be rewarded as though she has just won the lottery. Tricks are fun – learning how to do them should be fun, too.

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