At times, however, their desire to inhale any and all nearby objects can be dangerous. We’ve all had that moment where our eyes settle on a disgusting or forbidden object on the ground mere seconds before our dog gleefully gulps it down. Some of us have dogs that know to “drop it” or “give,” and some of us have dogs that won’t give up their prize, no matter what. At best, it’s repulsive (in our eyes) and delicious (in the dog’s eyes). At worst, it’s dangerous to the dog and will result in a quick drive to the vet, or worse, death.
Teaching your dog to “leave it” is simple and incredibly useful, especially for those of us with orally fixated four-legged friends. Our dogs are considered to be opportunistic scavengers; it is instinctive to grab and eat whatever they find, that is even slightly edible (edible as defined by the dog). “Leave it” is the command we use when we want to tell them to deny those urges and to refrain from eating the object.
To train the “leave it” command, begin with a yummy treat held in your closed hand. (Note: Do not introduce the verbal command at this point; wait until the dog begins to consistently offer up the behavior of NOT trying to get the treat. Once the dog understands what it is that you want him to do, and consistently does it, you can then say the words “Leave it” to indicate what you want them to do. We want the dog to realize what the desired behavior is BEFORE linking a verbal command to that behavior.) Your dog will sniff and try to get at the treat. Wait until they stop nudging at your hand, say “Yes!” and open your hand, giving the dog the treat. As you progress, begin placing the item on the floor, quickly covering it with either your foot or hand if the dog tries to eat it. Each time your dog exhibits impulse control, and gives up trying to get the treat, say “Yes!” and hand the treat to the dog.
You will be amazed at how quickly your canine genius figures out how to be rewarded. Patience and impulse control lead to receiving the delicious treat. As soon as they figure out that they will get the treat if, and only if, they refrain from grabbing it, you can begin to introduce the verbal command “leave it” and link the words to the behavior. Practice this throughout the day in your own home. You will then eventually be able to use it when out on walks in your neighborhood. No more begging your dog to “drop it,” no more prying slimy globs of unidentified goop from your dog’s mouth. Just a simple “Leave it” command, and you and your dog can walk on by the forbidden object on the sidewalk. Crisis averted.