How this common dog training command can actually make your dog unreliable!
Typically, the dog training command “Leave it” is used by dog owners when they are walking their dog, and their dog tried to get to something. A piece of food on the ground, another dog they might be walking past, a person, etc. They will be walking their dog, their dog loses focus to go after something, they will say “leave it”, the dog’s focus will return, then they sometimes reward the dog, and move on.
When I hear someone use a “Leave it” command, it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me, because in my opinion, using this command just teaches your dog to be unreliable.
Of course, “leave it” is used in other contexts as well. Sometimes it’s used in place of a “drop” command, for example. But, when it’s used after a dog has lost his focus, what you’re really doing is teaching your dog to expect another command, instead of maintaining the command you’ve already given, like “heel” or “stay”. To make matters worse, if you subscribe to the theory that after you give your dog a command, you should reward him/her after they do it (which you should!) then once your dog does “leave it”, theoretically, you should reward them for doing so. So, in this scenario, your dog is heeling. Don’t you think that you should instead, reinforce the “heel”, since that’s what your dog was doing in the first place?
Suppose you’re walking your dog and you stop to talk to your neighbor. Your dog stops with you and sits nicely, so you reward him/her. He continues to sit there, as he/she has been taught, and then another dog comes around the corner and starts to walk past. If your dog begins to show interest, as if they want to get up and check out the other dog, what do you say? If you use “leave it”, you’re teaching your dog to test you every time they lose focus, so that you’ll give the secondary command. Furthermore, if they do leave it, and you reward them, doesn’t it seem like you’re actually rewarding them for losing focus in the first place? (And if you don’t, then you’re going to begin to go down the slippery slope of having your dog respond to commands without being rewarded, or worse, using commands in the negative, rather than positive)
When you’re tempted to use a “leave it” command, just think of what command your dog should be doing when you use it? Is it “heel”? “Stay”? Then, reinforce that command. Finally, when it’s appropriate, try to immediately set that situation up again so you can reward your dog for maintaining focus. (End a training opportunity on a positive note!) Your goal should be to not need to use a command like “leave it” in the first place. This will make your dog so much more reliable in the long-term!
In a few weeks, I’ll have a New York City dog trainer, and a Washington DC dog trainer here in Delaware taking my Professional Dog Trainer’s course. Their goals will be to make their client’s dogs as reliable as possible, so this will be a subject we cover in depth!