0 Comments | Aug 27, 2011

Leave It

Question:  Our puppy is a goat and eats everything! It makes it difficult to take her outside, even on a leash. She picks up (eats ?!) rocks, bark, sand, dirt, grass, you name it! I worry mostly about the rocks, I figure the rest will pass through her if she doesn’t throw it up. Thanks for any suggestions!  –Becky S.

Answer:  The first step is teaching a good “leave it” command. Teach her to turn away from things on the ground and look to you instead. This will serve you well as she grows to adulthood even after this puppy phase has passed.

Beyond that, it’s a ton of prevention and redirection. The good news is that most puppies outgrow this “everything must be in my mouth” stage, and with consistent management you should be able to get past this puppy period without it continuing to adulthood. That said, the more determined your dog is to eat things, the more work you have to do to teach an alternate behavior. “No” by itself isn’t good enough–there are a thousand behaviors we DON’T want our dogs to do and just saying “no” might temporarily stop one, but it doesn’t prevent others. So we need to pair it with direction for what we DO want them to do. That might be focusing on you, playing fetch, actively walking, or even carrying a toy in her mouth.

The Leave It Command: Often we view “leave it” as a correction.  We use it the same as we would the word “no.” If you can change your point of view to see it as a positive, you are likely to get better results. Think of it this way: you are sitting on the couch reading a good book.  You’ve just gotten to an interesting part and you are told,”Stop reading that book.”  You do, and basically nothing exciting happens.  No interaction, no attention, no acknowledgement.  Not very compelling—you give up something you are enjoying for nothing.  So maybe you go back to reading your book. What if instead you were told, “Come here right away, I’ve just pulled fresh, warm chocolate chip cookies out of the oven and I want to share them with you!” A much more compelling offer.  Sure, you are still giving up something you were enjoying, but now you are getting something you enjoy in return.  Maybe even something you enjoy more.

Start teaching leave it with things that are only mildly interesting to your dog.  A sock, a piece of paper, an empty box.  When your dog focuses on the object, put some treats to his nose and lure him away while saying “leave it.”  Back away from the object and praise, praise, praise while treating your dog.  Treats for this exercise should be really good ones.  Chicken, steak, cheese.  Right now we are only asking him to leave a sock but later we may ask him to come away from a dead squirrel or a box of pizza.  We want him to be sure it’s going to be worth it.

Once he’s gotten the idea on less interesting objects and is enthusiastically turning to you when you say “leave it,” try more interesting things and more interesting environments.  Always remember to praise and reward.  Turning to you should be compelling, the best part of the interaction, and definitely worth giving up a dog’s version of a good book.