Why Training Your Dog a Leave-it is Not The Same as Teaching Food Control
Many dogs are motivated by food making it an obvious reward choice for training, but what should you do if your dog is too pushy around food? It’s useful to teach dogs how to be polite around food and not to counter-surf, beg, steal or pick up things found outside.
Training a simple leave-it should be easy with even the most food-motivated dogs. Often times, the dog will ignore a treat placed on the floor within minutes during the first practice session, but will this skill help your dog in the real world?
Your dog will have to practice leaving food in many situations before you can expect reliability. When training a leave-it, you might have a pocket or bait bag full of treats with a low value treat placed on the floor. It’s easy for your dog to make good choices when you control the environment, but in real life, your dog will notice food on the ground long before you see it. You can’t instruct your dog to “leave it” if you don’t see the food he smells in the first place.
The challenge is; how can we train our dogs to automatically leave food that they find unless we tell them it is theirs?
Do you believe that you can train your dog to walk over a pizza without stopping or ignore a whole plate of food that you accidentally drop?
Is it possible? Absolutely!
Will it be as simple as training a leave-it? No way!
If you want real life reliability with this skill, there is a lot of work to do. It will be a challenge but if this is a skill you want your dog to have, you can start improving your dog’s reliability with leaving food and overall control around food right away.
In our skills level lists, there are a few skills that go along with food control in both level one and level two. You will find these skills easy to master after training your dog to be polite about treats and food.
In order to teach your dog to have food control, start by working on these three areas:
A traditional leave-it
There are a number of ways to train your dog to leave a treat. You can start by placing a treat under your foot and mark reward your dog for ignoring it, working your way up to uncovering the treat and increasing difficulty.
Showing you the food found instead of eating it
When your dog finds something that you don’t want him to have, will your leave-it cue work? It’s important to teach your dog what happens if he alerts you to things he finds instead of eating it before you can react. In practice, he gets an even better treat! Start practicing this by placing low-value food in containers that your dog can not easily open. You can hide them outside or on your walking route. If you play search games with your dog that are similar, you should have a special harness or cue for search games so your dog knows the difference.
Before taking your dog out to where the containers are, load up on high-value treats. Use your dog’s absolute favorite food as the reward. When your dog comes across the low-value containers of food, praise him for finding it and ask for attention before your dog tries to open the container. While backing a step away from it, feed your dog the high-value treat. We want our dogs to learn to find things and check in with us instead of go for whatever they find. You do not give your dog the food he finds, you give him something even better. There are many variations with this game and ways to make it more difficult and challenge your dog, but this is the start. With practice, you can condition your dog to let you know about everything he finds.
Control when feeding and training with food
For training, decide on some rules about what your dog should do if you drop food by accident, how your dog should take food from your hand and so on. I use the word” search” for food that I toss so that my dogs know that food that falls without a cue is not theirs unless I say "get it," (My word for scent work is “explore” if you are running out of cue words). When feeding a treat, practice having your dog take the treat gently. If your dog is pushy for food, your dog might be training you without you even realizing it.
Always practice control during feeding routines, around the food bowl and treat bags.
Even if you can put a treat on your dog’s nose or spell your dog’s name in treats, there are further steps for this skill to work for you outside of training practice.
More on this topic coming soon!