The WATCH and LEAVE IT commands

“Watch” means keep your eyes on my eyes. We teach this by showing the dog a treat while we place our face in their line of vision. As we give the treat we say “watch.” A dog will usually get this pretty fast. Then you can move the treat away from your face while tapping your nose with your other hand as you say “watch.” The movement of the treat-free hand draws the dog’s attention back to your eyes from the treat which they invariable track. As the dog’s eyes are on you, pop the treat in the dog’s mouth. The better your timing on this one the faster the dog learns it. Make sure you are only giving the treat while the dog’s eyes are on your eyes. Many dogs will avoid eye contact out of submission or respect and that is fine. Don’t demand direct eye contact from a submissive or young dog. Just make sure the eyes are looking toward your nose, forehead, or chin. As your dog builds confidence with this exercise they will look into your eyes.

“Leave it” means take your attention off of that thing (food, dog, person, goose poop, etc, and put it on me). To practice leave it, put a treat in front of your dog while he is on leash. Make sure that he cannot under any circumstance get to the treat! As you place the treat say “LEAVE IT” in a firm commanding tone and hold on tight to the leash. He will likely strain to get to the treat. Refrain from repeating the word leave it over and over again. Eventually, the dog will give up and often they will look at you…praise this immediately by giving them a treat from your hand (not the one on the floor) and saying “good dog” or something like that. The dog will then usually try to go for the treat on the floor and when they do you say “LEAVE IT” again in a firm voice and repeat. The dog will catch on fast. That is the first part of the exercise.

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Eventually, we work with the leash loose enough for the dog to get at the treat to test their self control and to see if they really “get” the exercise. But we must make sure the dog doesn’t get the treat! Make sure you are standing close by the treat and put your foot over it if the dog makes a move to get it. I recommend practicing this on an easy to clean floor surface. You’ll surprise yourself at the speed and force you use to block that dog from getting that treat and most of us usually end up squashing the treat flat. Not good for carpets. If your dog makes a break for the treat with a loose leash practice a bit more with a tight leash and try again in a few days.

When the dog is showing it understands the command we up the ante so to speak and add movement to the mix. We roll or toss a treat in front of the dog as we say “LEAVE IT” and the dog should watch the treat but not go for it. If the dog does bolt, make sure you can step on their leash before they get to the treat and then go back a step to just placing the treat. Eventually they will understand that they are not to go for the treat under any circumstance.

Then it is time to practice outside with things that just happen to be in nature, like dead animals, poop, and for whatever reason in my neighborhood, french fries. As you approach the forbidden object say “LEAVE IT” firmly. The dog should ignore the object and look at you. If they don’t immediately look at you, you can add the “WATCH” command as well. If they still ignore all they’ve learned and keep fixating on the forbidden object, keep practicing the above steps inside. Outside is much more compelling and you may need more repeats in a more controlled setting to really condition the dog to the command.

Also, never let dogs get treats off of the floor for the duration of training. Always pick up the treat (or anything that falls to the floor) ask the dog to “watch” and then give the treat to praise the watch. This makes for a dog that understands that when things fall to the ground the best thing to do is to look to us…which is good because many things we drop should not be ingested by our dogs.

Don’t practice “leave it” with things that are theirs – for example, don’t make them “leave” their dinner, their toys, etc. Do practice it with your own dinner or your children’s toys. And don’t work this for more than a few repetitions in a row. This is a boring exercise for everyone involved. 5-10 times in a row a couple of times a day is enough.

March 3, 2009 • Tags: , , • Posted in: behavior, training, video

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