Teaching a dog to keep away from a resource or to leave it alone is a skill that I believe every dog should have as part of her repertoire. Let’s not kid ourselves here, at some point our dogs are going to get a hold of something we rather they not. Whether it be your slippers, smaller items that can pose as choking hazards, or a two week old decomposing animal they discovered somewhere along a trail, if your dog can remove herself from the object when you give her the cue it will save you much frustration and anxiety and in some cases likely save her life.
Here’s how to start…
1. Decide on your word of choice. It can be “off”, “leave it”, or any other word that will come to mean “remove yourself from that, now”. You can get creative with cues by the way since dogs don’t understand English and will come to recognize the meaning of the word in any language, so you can teach it in Klingon if your so inclined.
2. With a treat in your hand, make a fist and place the hand in front of your dog making sure they know there is a treat in there. It helps if it’s something with a good and strong scent. At first the dog may try to get to it in a few different ways including licking and pawing. That’s normal.
3. After a few attempts at getting to the treat and the frustration of failing, your dog will back down. She’ll do this by either sitting, laying down, or walking away. The second she does so and stops trying to get at the treat open your hand and give her the treat. I usually say “yes” as a marker to indicate the behavior that earned her the treat.
4. Repeat this numerous times until she begins to back down faster at the sign of the coming treat.
5. Once she is backing down regularly begin to throw in your cue by first (a) giving the cue, (b) placing the treat again in front of her, (c) waiting until she backs down, and (d) giving treat.
And that’s it. Of course, you can progress to the point where you’re placing the treat directly on the floor in front of her. You can also move on to other objects of interest to her, such as a favorite toy or even her food bowl. Practice makes perfect. Keep at it.
Here’s a short video of how this exercise may look during the first few seconds of trying it. Notice how my dog Lulu tries to get at the treat and quickly backs down. Also notice that on my last attempt I have my hand open with the treat securely held which in turn makes her try harder at getting to it. The second she backs down, I deliver the goods.