In one of my previous blog posts about self-control versus imposed control for dogs, I explained that I do not teach “leave it” to my dogs. Instead, I train my dogs to wait for permission to take food, objects, or anything else they want.
Here is a quick video demonstration of how I train dogs to have self-control around food.
Keys to Training
Note that I do not say “leave it,” “no,” or otherwise nag Strata to not take the food. Actions speak louder than words. If he tries to steal the treat, I just close my hand and make it inaccessible to him. If he waits politely, I keep my hand open and ultimately reward him using my other hand.
Rewarding with the “free” hand speeds up the learning process for the dog. If you reward with the hand that has all of the treats in it – the very thing you’re training him not to touch! – it will confuse your dog.
Start this training with treats that are of a low value to your dog, like Cheerios, bits of carrot, or his usual dog kibble. Only keep 3-6 treats in your hand at a time. It’s especially important to not start this training with food that is oily or juicy, like hot dogs or cheese, because your dog will be able to lick that off of your skin and therefore get rewarded for “mugging” your treat hand.
It is imperative that you play this game in a variety of places, with a variety of treats. Otherwise, your dog will learn that this is a game you play with liver treats, but anything else that hits the ground is fair game. My goal is to play this game in every room of my house (including the bathroom, and especially the kitchen) with at least 20 different types of treats.
As your dog gets good at this game, start playing it on different elevated surfaces, such as chairs, stools, tables, and countertops. If your dog counter-surfs, this is a great way to teach them that food on counters is off-limits.
At 1:25 in the video I demonstrate dropping the treat on to the ground. This is very important to build upon if you don’t want your dog diving for everything that falls on the kitchen floor. Drop treats on the ground while you are sitting, kneeling, bending over, and standing. Flick them off the countertop and on to the floor. If your dog goes for them, use your foot (instead of your hand) to block access.
This skill has saved my dogs’ life several times, when my parents have dropped open bottles of medication on to the ground. Rather than diving for the pills, my dogs have watched them fall and waited patiently, hoping to “earn” one instead!