One of the biggest issues we face when working with our animals is clarity. How can we communicate with them in not only an ethical way, but also an effective one? How can they communicate to us in a safe way their needs?
In order for us to communicate with our dogs, we need to be clear that when we give them a cue (such as sit) what that actually means, and the purpose of it.
For example, Kevin (my french bulldog) knows that the cue ‘middle’ means ‘move around Jack’s right leg until I am in between his legs with my bum on the floor staring at him’.
Middle is just a trick, but it can have many uses. For some of my dogs I might use it to put them in a safer space if a reactive dog was walking by. I might use it to end all of my recalls, so my dog comes back to me and automatically goes into a middle. I also use it to let my dogs know they’re going to be searching during Scentwork.
For Kevin, he knows that he only does a ‘middle’ when we’re about to search for his scented articles. It’s always used in that context, so that makes communication clear and concise.
So, what does ‘Leave It’ mean?
You can say that Leave It means ‘stop what you’re doing’, but that isn’t particularly clear. Stop doing what? Stop being near the object? Stop holding the object? Stop eating the object?
The issue with ‘Leave It’ is that, in reality, we don’t want the dog to stop doing something, but instead we want them to start doing something else.
You certainly don’t want your dog eating your slippers, that just makes sense. So when we say ‘leave it’, what we might mean is ‘come here to me so you’ll stop eating my slippers’.
Which makes that a recall, correct?
And usually after that ‘Leave It’ if it’s your slippers you’ll go and pick them up and put them in a space your dog can’t get to them.
I want to stress there is nothing wrong with ‘Leave It’, but we need to be consistent with what ‘Leave It’ actually means.
For example, if I don’t want my dog to eat cow poo, then I’d recall them off of it. But, if my dog was carrying something in it’s mouth I didn’t want him to, I’d tell him to ‘drop’.
If I just said ‘Leave It’, which one of those behaviours do I want? I might know, but will our dog?
It’s all about clarity. If we know that our dog knows that when we say this word, you should do this, it removes all of the confusion and annoyance out of dog training. Can it be difficult? Absolutely, but it’s well worth it.
Know exactly what you want the word to mean before you teach your dog. Then, as opposed to shouting ‘leave it’ when they won’t drop your slippers, you’ll be able to say exactly what you mean.
And that’ll make a world of difference.