Sunday, September 5, 2010

CU Seminar: Leave it

Picture is unrelated. But cute, no?
I did take it in Omaha, so it's kind of on-topic.
And if we pretend that I told her to leave the ball, it's fully relevant.

Leave it is another foundation exercise we worked on, and it’s one that I think is incredibly valuable. Maisy has a pretty good leave it, but even so, I enjoyed working on leave its with Alexa. She reminded me of places I can strengthen the cue for Maisy, and brought a few interesting twists to a familiar game.

Leave it is pretty self-explanatory: the dog leaves “it” (whatever that might be) alone unless you allow him to have it. Alexa was clear that leave it is not about proofing a stay. She doesn’t expect the dog to hold a particular position while performing a leave it. In fact, she views leave it as a movement exercise; the dog actively chooses to move away from the distraction. I like this view, because my reactive dog is always rushing towards whatever is bugging her. I’d love it if she came away from it instead!

She started teach leave it exactly the way I do: hold a treat in your hand, and let your dog investigate. As soon as your dog moves away from your hand (which can take awhile for the dog who is new to this game), click and treat. Repeat this process with the treat in an open hand (which you will close into a fist if the dog tries to eat the treat), on the floor under your foot, on the floor in the open, and then gradually dropping the treat from higher and higher distances.

Maisy can do all of those steps as long as I give her a verbal cue. However, Alexa encouraged people to teach their dogs that all treats are off limits unless they are handed to the dog, or unless the dog has been given explicit permission to take the treat. This means that when you’re training the exercise, you don’t need to give a cue to leave it (although I think it’s nice to teach one anyway). It also means you should always use a consistent cue to tell your dog he can have the treat now. Ultimately, you want your dog to learn that a treat on the floor is an environmental cue for the dog to move away from the treat and turn back to the handler.

I really like teaching it like this, because Maisy is like a vacuum: if there’s a treat on the floor (or if she thinks something is a treat, like a bit of lint), she’ll dive on it. This is clearly not good in the performance ring. It’s worse in obedience, where you can’t talk to the dog, but even in rally, where you can, there’s no guarantee that I’ll see the treat before Maisy. Add to that the fact that Maisy has food allergies and you can see why I love this approach so much!

Although Maisy will sit and ignore a handful of treats that is raining down on her head, it’s much harder for her to ignore a treat that I drop while she and I are both walking. The movement really seems to make a difference with her, which makes sense. For a long time, I only trained leave it while she was sitting, so the whole picture changes when she’s moving. We did start working on this earlier this summer while on walks, but even so, it’s a struggle for us, and she utterly failed when we got to the point of walking over more than four or five treats scattered on the ground.

Maisy and I will definitely work on leave it some more, because it is a great exercise. In addition to the benefits it will provide for competition, it can keep dogs safe, especially if you’re prone to dropping human medicine, like I am. It also helps teach our dogs impulse control. I especially like leave it when it’s done with environmental cues, not verbal ones, because I like the additional layer of self-control, which gives our dogs another opportunity to think and make good decisions. Most importantly for our reactive dogs, leave it is also great for creating a rule structure in which the dog learns that it’s always best to control his impulses and turn to his handler when he wants something or is distracted by something.

Tell me about leave it and your dog: do you have it on verbal cue, as an environmental cue, or both? How far can your dog go before he can’t resist anymore? What do you need to do to take your dog’s leave it to the next level?


Laura and The Corgi, Toller, & Duck said...

I also like teaching a default leave it. My dogs do have a verbal cue, but most of the time I like practicing without one. If I use the cue I do expect my dogs to make eye contact with me besides just not eating it. I don' really worry about having a specific cue telling my dogs they can have something however I do try and say "get it" if I accidentally drop a treat and see my dogs going for it so that they think it was my idea.

I also find that any "leave it" activity really make my dogs work harder at what ever we were proofing. Lance is less likely to forge on heeling, really concentrates on his directed jumping, etc. The only issue it has caused is that my dogs all tend to take a wide berth around the objects if I'm doing a recall.

Vito needs more practice with they eye contact portion. Toys are his hardest and he usually catches on very quickly that he can't have them but it's still hard for him to give me full attention. Lance would rather run into a wall then look at the forbidden item. And Chuck, well the baby is doing great but can easily be fooled in the beginning of a session.

Raegan said...

Gatsby is a very hopeful dog. He gets really sniffy for treats on the ground (I don't think it's stress sniffing, I'm pretty sure it's "well maybe I can find a treat on the floor instead of working for a click"). I do need to be tighter about my rules for food he is and is not allowed to have.

Our leave it is very strong for things - people, windows, toys - but utter crap for food. Well, not utter crap but not very good and not at all implicit.

I've really enjoyed your recaps of the seminar! The CU book is great, but it can be really hard to pick out exercises.

Sara said...

We had a brilliant leave it, until Layla was started on steroids to get her ear infections under control. Now she's starvingstartingstarvingtoDEATH all the time, and we have no leave it to speak of. Which is why she vacuumed up a pizza crust a couple nights ago on a walk (which only makes her ear infections worse, since she's allergic). The steroids have also made her cranky, which means her resource guarding issues are back full throttle. This is the time when we could most use "leave it," and it's not there! Boo for allergies and medication side effects.

New foster Manny the Border Collie/Rat Terrier has no impulse control and a very hard mouth. For the sake of my fingers, I've been introducing leave it first in the framework of crate games (usually I teach it like you described). Once he can control himself in the crate in the presense of all his biggest motivators, I'll re-introduce the concept outside of the crate (probably with treats under my shoe to begin with).

Duke the Labradork has a great leave it, which took over a year to teach. He's a slow learner and a major mooch. He does have to be reminded to this day and won't do it automatically, unfortunately.

Crystal (Thompson) Barrera said...

Raegan- I do love the CU book, but I struggled with the way it was written when I first read it. I wasn't sure how to adapt group exercises to working solo with my dog, and some of the stuff that would have been easy to do alone (reorienting, look at that) was either glossed over or several chapters in. I was lucky to find a class to help me figure it out.

Sara, I hope Layla's feeling better soon... and that the lost leave it returns once she's off the steroids. You need to post pictures of Manny. I saw a few on SDR's website, but they were small. :(

Joanna said...

Ira's "leave it" is really good if we practice it frequently, but if too long goes by than he's back to being a vacuum cleaner, like Maisy. He does have a great auto leave it for things that I drop, especially in the kitchen, but I've never set out to systematically teach him not to eat things on the ground. We, too, struggle with this in trials.

I like the idea of teaching the dog that all food on the ground is off-limits, and I think that it could be done if the person is super consistent and reinforces a lot. However, I think that being able to toss food out to your dog is an advantage when doing distance work. If you are good at tossing treats and your dog is good at catching (my best friend's dog is great at this!), then you can have the best of both worlds, but it's not a reality for most of us, especially when we have little dogs.

Crystal (Thompson) Barrera said...

Regarding trials, the really tricky bit is distinguishing between sniffing for treats and sniffing due to stress.

Maisy actually is quite good at catching a tossed treat, and if I were super consistent about it, I imagine I could teach her to catch it on cue and allow it to bounce off her head when she isn't cued. But I'm not really that consistent, lol.