When it comes to training your dog, there are a lot of things to teach. Sit, down, wait, and come. Walk on a loose leash, don’t jump on the guests. Stay off of the furniture, don’t eat the cat. The list goes on and on. However, I think that there is one behavior that is the most important to teach FIRST, and that is the “Leave It” command. Whether you are training a brand new puppy, bringing home a rescue, or you are finally ready to get started with your older family pet, this is the behavior that I almost always start a training program with, and for very good reason.
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Why is this the most important behavior to teach your dog, you ask? There are so many reasons. Leave It is all about self-control, and I promise you that a dog with no self control is not just a nuisance, it can be a danger. Leave It can save your dog’s life. And, of course, Leave It can stop a whole bunch of problem behaviors from becoming worse! Let’s take a look in some more detail how Leave It can change your dog’s life (and yours too!)
Leave It Teaches Self Control
When I start working with a new client dog, usually the number one complaint that their owner has has got something to do with self control. Their dog lunges at other dogs on a walk. He jumps up on guests at the door. He runs out the door as soon as it opens. He steals food off the table, or toys out of their kids’ rooms. What’s the common thread between all of these nuisance behaviors? You got it: Self Control.
When you teach a dog impulse control, you aren’t just putting a stop to troubling behaviors. You’re actually giving the dog the keys to being able to completely manage himself without your help, and to critically think about what he’s doing BEFORE he jumps headlong into a swimming pool, steals your toddler’s favorite stuffy toy, or hops onto the counter and takes that chicken you’ve been defrosting for himself. It’s so incredibly liberating to have a dog like that, rather than one you can never take your eyes off of!
Leave It can Save Your Dog’s Life
I’m going to share with you a little story that one of my training instructors told me when I was young and impressionable. Tracy is an outstanding dog trainer, and has been on the Agility World Team with her dogs. Not only that, she’s a great person, and a wonderful teacher of humans as well! She told this story to one of her agility classes that I was a part of, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Now, as we’ll get into a little bit later, there are many ways to teach Leave It to your dog. However, in Tracy’s case, she uses a protocol called “It’s Yer Choice,” which is agreat and fun way to train. Essentially, once your dog has mastered the art of Leave It, you begin to expand and generalize the command to harder and harder circumstances. She would put treats randomly throughout her home and the agility courses to teach her dog to completely ignore distractions as he was working, and he took it as an exciting challenge!
Well, one day, they were at an agility trial and were spending the night in a hotel. Tracy let her pup out into the room and she stepped into the bathroom to take a shower. When she came out, she found her dog sitting under the desk, staring intently at something on the floor, but not taking it. She went over to see what on earth he was doing, and she found a PILL that a previous guest had dropped and that housekeeping hadn’t cleaned up.
Now, it could have been a harmless little pill, or it could have been something that would completely destroy her dog! The good news is, her dog was a professional at the game of Leave It, and he didn’t touch it. In fact, he was playing the game with himself, without ever being told to do so!
Wouldn’t it be incredible to have a dog that doesn’t take things without being told it’s ok? Imagine the things they have access to, that they’re so quick to grab when we aren’t looking. Diapers (which can cause a blockage and lead to surgery or death), fluffy toys or socks, (which can cause a blockage, or a seriously sad baby when torn up), towels, that bar of chocolate, and more are all things that your dog is going to have to learn to avoid for safety’s sake!
Leave It can Stop Problem Behaviors from Worsening
When I think of the common person’s dog with problem behaviors, I think of dogs who rush through the door without being invited, who jump up on guests, and who pull at the leash and bark at other dogs. These pups are often great family pets, except for one thing…they have absolutely no impulse control and do whatever fool thing pops into their heads.
When these dogs learn that they have to ask permission and go through you to get the things that they want in life, it’s often a total game changer. Sure, there are other training aspects involved, and you have to teach the appropriate behavior that you want in all of the above examples, but it is a MUCH smoother path when your dog is already accustomed to looking to you for direction.
Rather than rushing the door, your dog already knows to sit back and wait for the things that he wants through your training of Leave It. Rather than jumping on your guests, your dog knows to think before he acts and sits politely instead. Rather than rushing at other dogs, your dog already understands that diving for what he wants isn’t going to get him where he wants to be in life, so he looks to you for direction instead.
Teaching the impulse control that goes along with Leave It is a quick fix for many of these problems. Even if the problem isn’t completely fixed, it absolutely helps to put your pup on the right track to success!