Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Leave It: Anywhere, Anytime

SSD Judge fell asleep less than three feet away from his favorite foods. That’s pretty impressive all by itself, but what’s even more amazing is that he could have easily grabbed that carrot cake or corned beef. He chose not to.

Judge’s “leave it” skills didn’t appear overnight. His puppy raiser, Donna, has been working with him from the start. She began by working on down-stays. When Judge was a young puppy, she and her husband used baby gates to keep him in certain areas, but then they progressed to using the down-stay to keep him from crossing the doorway. They also trained him to “go to bed,” meaning he will go to a designated blanket and lay down. They used both of these skills to keep him in certain rooms.

Once Judge had mastered the skill of not crossing the threshold without his puppy raisers’ permission, they decided to challenge him even more by adding a “leave it.” She asked Judge to “down” and “stay” in the doorway of one room and then placed food on a plate in the other room. The food was within his reach, if he had chosen to get up. Donna then walked away and disappeared from his line of sight, although she could still see him. Then she walked back to him, clicked and treated him, as long as he didn’t break his down-stay. Gradually, she increased the amount of time before she returned until Judge could hold his down-stay and leave it for over 30 minutes! He was even able to relax enough to fall asleep.

(Please note that before Donna started putting Judge in a down-stay and leaving the room, she had already spent many weeks working to perfect his down-stay. If you’re going to try this with your dog, start small, and don’t add additional temptations, such as food, until your dog has a solid down-stay. You can start by just asking your dog for a “down” and gradually increase the time he stays there. Then you can start adding distractions – clap, do jumping jacks, walk around your dog, walk a few steps backward, leave the room and come back, ring the doorbell, etc. Then you may be able to start adding the food temptation.)

Donna has also placed food, paper items, toys, bird eggs, etc. on plates throughout the house and outside. She worked with him on and off leash to get him to ignore the things on the plates, and if he went toward one of the plates, she used the “leave it” cue. (At this point, Judge already knew the cue “leave it.” If your dog doesn’t know the verbal cue yet, don’t use it.)

When Judge ignores the plates or listens to the cue “leave it,” Donna picks up the plate and treats him with one of his favorite food items. For example, if he leaves a plate of his favorite salad greens, Donna will pick up the plate and give him a piece of salad greens by hand. That way, Judge learns that the good things in life come from his handler, not from the floor.

One time, Donna forgot to pick up the plates outside, and Judge started making a beeline for them. She quickly said “leave it!” and to her amazement, he did! He stopped as soon as he heard the cue.

Judge’s next challenge is to learn to generalize the cue “leave it,” so he can do it anywhere, not just at home. Soon he’ll have no problem walking through a busy cafeteria and ignoring any food on the floor.

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