The LEAVE IT command can be extremely useful as we negotiate our way through stores and restaurants with our Future Leader Dog puppies. But ideally, we want our puppies to learn to make their own decision to "leave" something. When they eventually work with their handler, they need to be able to walk anywhere without being tempted away from their job. After all, their blind handler won't be able to see that wayward bit of French-fry on the sidewalk in front of McDonalds and tell their guide dog to "leave it."
But how do we help our puppies learn to make the decision on their own?
- First they need to learn the LEAVE IT command.
- Then we need to help them "generalize" it in all settings (For more information about generalization, check out this website article: Generalization. What it is and Why it Must be Taken into Account for Training Success).
- Finally we need the patience to give them the opportunity to figure it out for themselves.
LETS GET STARTED
The following video demonstrates how easily you can start teaching this to a puppy. FLD Scout was less than eight weeks old in this video; in fact, we only had her five days and we worked on the LEAVE IT command twice before filming this session.
The first time I worked with Scout, I held some food in one hand so she could see it. When she attacked my hand I closed it so she couldn't get at the food. Eventually she lost interest. AT THAT EXACT MOMENT I praised her and gave her a treat from my other hand. I showed her the food again, but again kept her from getting it. When she lost interest, I praised her and treated her from my other hand. We repeated this for four or five minutes.
At the second session, Scout started to look at me after she couldn't get the food. I REALLY praised her and again, treated her from my other hand. And repeated the process for a few minutes, not very long at all.
You can see from the video that by the third session with Scout, I started to introduce the command LEAVE IT. Subsequently, I use the command with other things (like a dropped napkin in the kitchen) and in other settings (like walking down the sidewalk or in a restaurant). Because Scout is still young and learning to "generalize," I've been treating her generously. As time goes on I will wean here off the treats and just use praise.
For more details and hints for teaching LEAVE IT, check out my previous blog posts "LEAVE IT" (June 22, 2010) and "ADVANCED LEAVE IT" (September 7, 2010).
Don't be afraid to try this with your puppy. You should be able to notice in my video that I sometimes "missed" an opportunity to reward Scout when she looked at me. That's when she added her "sit"--evidence that this little puppy is starting to think on her own! "If looking at her doesn't get me a treat, what else can I do? Oh, yea, I can SIT!"
HELP YOUR PUPPY "LEAVE IT" ON HER OWN
Take a walk with your puppy. When you spot a temptation ahead, keep the leash snug enough so your puppy can't reach whatever it is, and WAIT to see what your puppy will do before saying "leave it." Chances are, once your puppy has a few "leave its" under her collar, she'll give up trying to get it and will look to you for reinforcement.
THAT'S when you need to push the praise volto-meter off the charts! Your puppy just left it along without being told!
(FLD Scout and I took a short walk while the video was loading. From the other room she whined because she had to "park." Yay, progress on that front! Anyway, we worked on loose-leash walking, standing when we stop, sits and downs. And yes, there were lots of acorns, sticks, and stones on our country-road that she oh-so-wanted to snatch! Some she left on her own when I held her leash so she couldn't reach it (and then she was praised and treated), others I said "leave it," and yet sometimes she still managed to grab this or that. Time to sweep my finger and clean out her baby mouth! Training doesn't happen overnight, you need patience and persistence.)