Defining Automatic Leave It Behavior

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Zora & Tom lying at my feet ignoring me as I eat dinner.

In every group class series I taught, we worked on some form of a leave it behavior.  From puppy class to advanced, I tried to instill in clients the value of teaching a solid automatic leave it behavior.

Which in all honesty, it seems few took away the complete value of such.  In part likely because to do so involves a. letting go of the limited definition of ‘leave it’ most folks already have, and b. it involves a lot of progressive training.

But from my perspective as both a dog owner and consultant of dogs with behavior challenges, a dog with a solid understanding of the leave it concept is a safer dog.

Now, what do I mean by ‘the leave it concept?’

I personally teach dogs and attempt to teach their owners that the definition of leave it is, “When in doubt, don’t touch it.  Unless you have specifically been invited to the situation, assume it’s off limits.”

I’ve found most people think of ‘leave it’ only in the context of food.  Such as, “well of course my dog has a good leave it, if I say leave it he won’t touch the treat I placed on the floor.”  Or think of leave it only in context of, “If I say leave it, he won’t touch it.”
While that is a great behavior, it’s not a complete leave it.

As from my perspective, leave it is a wide ranging behavior once full generalized.

Dog sees a person they know, “OH!  I want to go visit!  But no one has invited me to go say hi yet, so ok instead of running up and jumping on this person I love so much, I’ll wait patiently pretending they aren’t there until a human tells me I can say hi!”

Or Dog who is afraid or reactive or aggressive to other dogs sees another dog, “Oh, there is that dog!  I want them to go away!  But ok I’ll pretend that dog doesn’t exist, and ignore them.  Oh look!  It worked!  That dog went away! Whew, conflict avoided!”

Or you have a headache and decide to take a motrin.  You open the bottle and drop the pill on the floor right under your dog’s nose.  Your dog thinks, “Oh maybe that’s a treat!  But I wasn’t invited to take it yet, ok I will stand here patiently instead of trying to grab that pill that will cause me potential poisoning.”

Or you are on a walk in the woods and a rabbit leaps out of the brush right under your dog’s feet and races off.  Instead of instantly pursuing, your dog stops and looks at you saying, “Rabbit!  I’d love to chase, can we please?!” waiting for the release cue to chase the bunny.

Or my life this morning.  Attempting to lift and pour a 30 pound bag of dog food into the storage container and I miss.  15 pounds of dog food dump right on my dog’s heads.  And instead of trying to grab and eat it all or potentially resource guard it, they all just stand there patiently ignoring the smorgasbord under their noses as I clean it up.

In life so many times things happen without warning.  If your dog’s ability to ignore a tempting stimulus is dependent on you noticing that excitement first and verbally cuing your dog to ‘leave it!’ you will likely find yourself in situations where your dog makes the choice to grab, chase, bark, lunge or other first, ask questions later.  Which is often a safety concern.

Next leave it related post, I will go into how to begin teaching the automatic leave it response or as a client once termed it, “The Ignore to Earn Program”.

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