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Training "Leave It"

Q: I have a rescue Border collie/lab mix. He is about 5 months old, and an absolute delight. He picks up things very easily and constantly needs a job. We have been working on clicker training and we both really like it, but I have a couple of "positive training" questions.

First. How do I train "leave it?" He does it when he doesn't really want the object—but I can't get him to ignore things that he really, really wants when he knows that all I have is kibble, treats, and cheese. I have been working him on leash, having a pile of treats and telling him to leave it and then clicking when he looks away and treating, but he doesn't do it if he is off leash.

Second. How do I train him not to chew the house up? He just seems to get in these moods where nothing is going to stop him. He is well exercised (running 3 miles a day), but he still will insist on chewing the couch, the power cords, and carpets at night if I do not pay 100% attention. I have tried telling him to "leave it" and he does for five minutes then he is back at it. This basically makes the "leave it" command my most uttered phrase. I have also tried substituting one of his toys and trying to play with him, but I can't always be there, and he always goes back to it.

Border Collie looking up

Third. I have been working with my dog a lot, but not exclusively. However, he only seems to listen to me, which is great until I need to leave the room or have someone watch him for a little while and then he becomes a terror. How do I maintain the bond that I have developed, but have him listen to other people?

A: What method are you using to teach your dog to "leave it?" Peggy Tillman, in her book Clicking with Your Dog, has a very nice series on teaching this cue. Remember, you do have to use higher reinforcement than the object or item that you are taking away. For example, if you click and offer a piece of cheese while the dog has a piece of steak, that reinforcement is simply not high enough. You might have to offer liver or some other delicious alternative.

He might not be performing this behavior off leash simply because he is getting reinforced for ignoring your cue. For example, if he is running off leash at the park and he grabs a piece of food that someone may have dropped, you can certainly tell him to "leave it" from a distance, but by the time you walk over to him, he would have already eaten the forbidden treat. He reinforced himself! I would suggest managing him well so that he does not have the opportunity to practice the inappropriate behavior.

When working your "leave it" cue, be sure to start off with items that he doesn't really care about and slowly increase the reinforcement value of that item.

Your dog is still a puppy. Chewing things is a normal part of canine behavior, especially when dogs are young. Manage your dog by not allowing him to roam the house when he is not being supervised. He is too young to assume all of this freedom. Establish a safe space for him: a crate, X-pen, or baby-gated room will do fine. Keep him in there when you cannot watch him. The other option is to put him on a leash and tether him to your side.

Teach him to be responsive to other people by having them clicker train him.

Emma Parsons
KPCT Training Director
Author of Click to Calm

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