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Leave it/Take it

Here’s a scenario with an ending we’d all like to avoid; you just finished another 10 hour work day and the weather is gorgeous out so you decide that you and your best friend “Spike” deserve a nice walk in the park. Since it’s already after 8pm and the park is pretty empty you have Spike on a 20 foot leash and you both are enjoying a well deserved walk. Spike being mister nosey man has his head in every bush, pile of leaves, and tall grass he can find. All of a sudden Spike has his head deep into the bushes and as it’s about to happen you see him open his mouth and, well too late, whatever it was is now on its way down to Spike’s stomach. And if it isn’t your dog, you know you’ll be called in to work one late night or better yet on the 4th of July for an emergency gastrotomy, or if you’re lucky only an endoscopy.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Of course it does! Now how about we fix this by teaching our clients a simple technique most dogs can learn in one day; typically they can learn it in one office call.

So the obvious goal with the "Leave It/Take It” command is for your dog to wait for permission BEFORE he picks up any object, whether it is food, a toy or something nasty in the street.

To begin you will need some taste treats, your dog, patience and a little bit of time.

Put a treat in one hand and hold your hand in a fist. Let your dog sniff, lick and try to get the treat, but keep your hand perfectly still. When he moves his head back for even a second, open your hand, move the treat closer to his mouth, and let him take the treat. If your timing is good after a few sessions, he should automatically keep his mouth away from your closed hand until you open it and offer him the treat.

It should only take 10-20 trials for your dog to understand what is expected of him. Now let’s add verbal commands. By now he knows the closed fist has a treat and he also knows he can't have it until you "let" him have it. When he approaches your hand tell him to "leave it", firm voice, no yelling. The moment he backs away, open your fist, bring your open hand towards him and tell him "take it" in a happy tone of voice. Practice, practice and practice some more, trust me Spike will ask for more.

Now that Spike has the concept of Leave It and Take It from your hand let’s challenge him. Place a yummy treat on the floor on a paper plate and have a spare treat in your non-leash hand. Put Spike on his leash and walk him past the dish at about a 5 foot distance. If he attempts to take the treat or even looks at it tell him to “Leave It” and keep walking. If he needs a little encouragement to continue walking show him the treat in your hand but DO NOT give it to him until you put him in a sit position, remember “Nothing In Life Is Free” (see our specialty folder for this handout). Continue at the 5 feet until he’s no longer interested, and then begin shortening the distance to the treat plate. To challenge Spike even more, once he can walk past the plate start walking him in a figure 8 around the plate, this is very challenging for most dogs. Now turn it into a game. Remember One Two Three Red Light as a kid? Well the dog version is Leave It and Take It. You can play this inside or out but I’d suggest starting inside, less distractions. Place several bowls with small treats in them and space them out in a straight line, I like to use the kitchen. You and Spike start at the same end, take a ball and slowly roll it past the bowls; you do need to have good aim for this. As Spike goes after the ball and sees the bowls with treats you decide if it is a Leave It or a Take It. Each bowl gets a command and in the beginning to be fair to Spike you should have more Take Its than Leave Its, too many Leave Its and we have a frustrated Spike. I often start this game with a few moments of Leave It and Take It from my hand, as a reminder for Spike. As Spike progresses you won’t even have to use the ball, he’ll just start wandering around the bowls looking at them and looking at you. When this happens pat yourself and Spike on the back and consider it a HOME RUN!!!!!!

Now can’t you see how this will come in handy for you and your clients?
Scenario #1 The kids drop their bag of chips on the floor, there are chips everywhere and here comes Spike. One firm "leave it", call him to you, put him in a sit and give him a "take it" treat, and of course a lot of praise.
Scenario #2 You’re at the park, Spike sees the goose poop as you see it, "leave it", walk away, "take it" treat and lots of praise.
Scenario #3 You’re at the same park and a chipmunk runs way too close by, “leave it", walk away, give an awesome treat and more praise.

If you’re interested in more training ideas "How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves" by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS. is one of the best books out. What ever you do, have fun with your dogs.