Some trainers adamantly believe we should not teach a ‘leave it’ cue. While others believe it to be one of the key skills that a dog should learn. Why such strong opposing views regarding this cue?
”leave it” is a traditional obedience style cue, often given as a command, and with a “do as I say, or else” type of attitude. To a traditional trainer, commanding a dog, or even threatening a dog, probably isn’t going to be something viewed as problematic so of course we should teach this cue. What’s the problem? What possible reason could there be not to train it? Why would some highly respected trainers urge us not to teach it?
Those of us who have taken the path of force-free, science-based, positive reinforcement-based training, reel against commanding our dogs to obey us. We strive to always teach skills in a positive, non-threatening manner. We don’t want to teach cues that might be shouted at a dog. Leave it, is clearly one such cue.
There are two key questions you need to understand before you consider whether this is something you need to help your dog with.
- How Did You Train “Leave It” and Was It Really Trained Using Positive Reinforcement?
- Should You Train A Leave It Cue?
Q#1 How Did You Train “Leave It” and Was It Really Trained Using Positive Reinforcement?
Many dogs respond to the ‘leave or leave it’ cue, not because they have any idea of what they should do but because it acts as a positive punisher – an aversive added to decrease a behavior.
The dog was approaching food/object/person.
The handler yells leave it.
The startled or frightened dog stops approaching food or objects.
A reward may then be given.
The cue itself has taken on aversive properties – It is now a poisoned cue. It acts as a punisher to decrease the behavior.
A reward is given, and the handler mistakenly believes that they taught this behavior using positive reinforcement.
This mixture of punishment and reinforcement is neither the most effective way to teach nor the most moral!
You may think that you haven’t taught it in that way, but can you be sure?
Did you lower the tone of your voice? Raise your eyebrows, furrow your brow. Point your finger? Is the cue “leave it” a veiled threat of “or else!”
Q#2 Should You Train A Leave It Cue?
Before you jump in head first to teaching, leave it or any other skill, please ask yourself a question.
Is The Skill Relevant? Learn more here
One of the first elements to success is choosing appropriate skills to teach. We should have a clear understanding of why we have chosen to train a specific skill, hopefully, because it is relevant to the dog and to their family, it will help them all succeed in life together. If this is not the case, then you might decide to choose a different skill to work on that is relevant to this individual dog,
So in what ways might a skill be relevant? Here are some questions that you might like to consider.
- Does it fulfill the family’s needs? The family includes the dog, of course.
- Does it solve their problems?
- Does it resonate with them? Does it affect or appeal to them in a personal or emotional way?
- Does it complete their lives?
- Does it bring them closer to their goals?
- Does it give them hope?
- Will it simplify their lives?
- And finally, but definitely relevant, especially to the dog, will it brighten their day?
If the answer is yes, to one or more of these questions, then you are on the right path. It sounds like the skill that you have chosen is one that will positively impact the life of the family.
Join Louise Stapleton-Frappell for this skills and knowledge-based course in which she will discuss the many reasons to teach this cue, and the many reasons not to! After clearly defining the goal behavior – precisely what we want our dogs to do on hearing the verbal cue – she will share a fun 10-step training ‘recipe’ that includes all the ‘ingredients’ that are needed to teach a canine how to happily, quickly, and willingly respond!
The step-by-step training games included in this three-part short course cover all the criteria for teaching the chosen cue in a way that is fun for both dogs and caregivers. Attendees will learn how to successfully use the ‘Train-Test-Train’ method, how to proof the appropriate response through fun games, and how to generalize the skill. You will also learn how to adapt the 10-Step training plan when needed.
Lots of video footage is included to clearly demonstrate all the training steps and tips and demonstrations regarding what to do if things do not go exactly as planned!
The “leave it” cue has so many uses in daily life.
- If you drop something on the floor and don’t want your dog to pick it up, to run off with it or to eat it, “leave it”
- If you don’t want your dog to chase after the cat, or move toward another dog, other animal, object, or even a person, “leave it”
- If you want to stop the dog from sniffing at something, or moving towards something dangerous, maybe something toxic, for example, one of the big bufo bufo toads that we often see here in Spain, “leave it” – In this example, the “Leave it” cue, could one day save your or a client’s dog’s life.