Dog’s do not understand spoken language until it is paired with a behavior. Yelling “leave it” at your dog, without any training behind it, may not have the desired effect. “Leave it” is a trained behavior just like sit. How many times a day does your dog hear “Leave It”? What do you want your dog to do when they hear “leave it”?
Presumably, you want your dog to stop moving towards the contraband. If you use “leave it” as a punishment or threat, you may notice your dog calculating the odds of how quickly he can beat you to the item. Before you know it, “leave it” has become “beat the clock” and your dog is likely to be faster than you.
I trained my dachshund mix to look at me when I say “leave it”. She is very quick and curious. While at the beach in the off-season, she ran 100 yards ahead of me to greet some fishermen. Cute, right? She loves people. She then made a beeline to their beach blanket. Uh oh, she was going to help herself to their snacks. From 100 yards away, I yelled, “Aero, leave it!”. Now, I have no recourse from 100 yards away. I’m not a running back who can dash 100 yards towards my terrier and tackle her away from sandwiches. This is where a “beat the clock” leave it would have failed. She’s already on the beach blanket; she could easily pilfer before I get there. Instead, she looked up and ran straight for me.
Why did Aero do that? Reinforcement history. Try training “leave it” as an attention cue. Looking at you after hearing “leave it” is incompatible with moving towards the contraband. Training a reliable “leave it” takes observation skills, quick reflexes, and patience. “Leave it” is a potentially life-saving behavior. If your dog does not have a reliable “leave it” or you are having difficulty training it, please contact Behavior United LLC or one of our force-free colleagues.
If you live in the Metro DC area and you’d like to practice “leave it” around decorations, presents, and food, consider our 2 hour Holiday Manners Workshop. “Leave it” will be one of the behaviors introduced and proofed.https://www.behaviorunited.com/group-classes