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Leave It

This command tells the dog that whatever is in front of him, whether that is a food treat, a dead bird or a cat, pulling his attention off that, and delivering it to you increases his chances of winning a prize -- whether that prize is something you in compensation for the loss of the Object of Interest (a super yummy treat, a chance to tug...) or whether the prize is a chance to


It is helpful in this exercise to use an "Event Marker" - a stimulus, usually a sound, that the dog has been conditioned to recognize as marking good behavior and promising a reward.   The use of such a marker allows you to train more accurately, especially in exercises like this, where the timing is "fiddly".  A clicker is an ideal marker (in large part because of its novelty, reproducibility and brevity-it allows you to "capture" a tiny window of desired behavior, reward it, and "grow" it) but you can, if you wish, condition a verbal marker, instead.  


To condition the dog's response to the Event Marker, 'click' then deliver a treat, in several different settings, at different times, until you have completed perhaps 50 pairings.  You will start to see the dog alert to the click, and he may wag his tail or show other signs of eagerness.  If you will use a verbal marker, choose a short word that you say rarely, and pair it with the treat, as described above.  


Place a treat on the ground, and cover it with your foot, so that the dog is aware of it, but cannot get it.  He will try, of course, in some cases quite persistently.  Give the cue "Leave It", just once.  As soon as the dog makes the first move away from your foot/the treat (the move may be only moving his head two inches away, or he may glance away) click, then treat.  As you repeat this procedure, you will note that the dog moves away from the "bait" more and more quickly, and may move his head farther from the treat, too.  As you note this progress, lift your foot from the treat slightly, being prepared to cover the treat again quickly if you need to.  Every few repetitions you should be able to uncover the treat a little more, until you can give the cue "Leave It", and the dog will immediately and cheerfully move his head away from the uncovered and otherwise tempting treat.  


Now raise your standard to the dog needing to glance at you before you will click and treat.  then, he must look at you, and hold his gaze for a moment, before you deliver a treat.


Do be careful that you are keeping your treat hidden, and your hand in neutral position until the dog has met your standard and you have clicked.  Don't hover over him with food filled fist luring him away from the Leave It item -- let him offer the behavior, then you will pay -- don't show him the "cash" (your reward) up front!


Once the dog is successful with the first practice item, in the first practice area, as always, you will vary the item and the location to get the behavior to generalize to the point of reliability.  


Especially when you are using this exercise as part of getting a reliable recall, make sure that you have rehearsed being able to get the Leave It behavior at a distance.  With an assistant who is able to cover the desired item so the dog can't snatch it (or, if necessary, but less ideal, with the dog on a long line, so you can step on the line and limit his access) start working just 2 feet away from the treat/desired item, then 3, then 5, and so on.


(Note: This exercise is NOT designed to keep the dog away from dangerous materials, nor to prevent destructive chewing or "counter-surfing" in the owner's absence.  Also,  if you have a dog who food or object guards, those issue will need to be resolved before you can practice this exercise.)


It's Yer Choice 


This is a very nice, default version of the leave It exercise.  The dog is to assume that he may not grab-- he must always, always show self control. He must always, always, wait for your release before obtaining a prize. -- whether that is taking treats from your hand, taking a treat off the ground, or grabbing at a tug toy. 


This exercise (by this name) is a Susan Garrett (Say Yes Dog Training, Ontario, Canada) exercise.  It is shown nicely in this Video: