Whether your dog fancies other dog’s poop or you live in a neighborhood peppered with trash, you can teach your dog to avoid all things nasty on the street. I constantly struggle with whether or not to teach my clients “leave it”. Why? After we introduce the cue and practice a couple times, the very strong sounding phrase interrupts their dog’s outside nosing behavior once or twice, leading the human to believe their dog knows it. That is when training can be sabotaged. Either the dog does not get feedback for stopping what he was doing (which he should) or he hears nothing but stern “leave it, leave it, leave it” without additional help learning what the words actually mean.
That is just unfair. If all you ever heard from your favorite people was gruff “no, no, no, no” as they yanked you away from amazing delights you discovered while out for one of few social excursions, would you stop liking them? I sure would! Here’s a couple steps to prevent frustration with your dog and keep him safe on walks:
Think about and teach what you want your dog to do. It is often said that dogs need jobs and boy, do I wish Finn could get out and earn paycheck once in awhile while I napped the day the away. Kidding aside, it’s true! Leash walks, though good exercise, can become monotonous. Dogs use their nose to find things so the outing is more enjoyable. Spend a couple weeks training a “watch” inside while progressively adding a distraction or two then introduce it during a low volume walk time. Many dogs will enjoy the fun new job of looking up at you. Another favorite is throwing in “stay” and “come” on walks, not only do you reinforce vital behaviors but give your dog something to do besides dig into a dirty diaper in the parkway. These behaviors are meant to keep your dog’s focus, not grab it once his nose takes over.
Train a “leave it”. REALLY train it. Start inside with your dog on leash and place (not throw) a boring item far away. Literally, at least five feet away and make sure it is boring: dog biscuit, cracker, empty poo bag, washcloth, anything that does not excite your dog. Give the cue “leave it” and put the item on the ground. If your dog instantly tugs to the end of the leash, whines or digs into the ground with excitement, the item is either too close or WAY too exciting. When your dog looks away from the item on his own with slack in the leash, say “yes” and treat. If your dog seems bored, that’s the point! You are teaching “leave it” means “avoid an item”. Practice with five items everyday and reward your dog for total avoidance. For a more detailed training protocol, see the “leave it” section in our Resource Guarding video.
Allow your dog to do what comes naturally. Fun games like naming items then having your dog “wait” while you hide toys, bones or tiny pieces of treats then allowing him to “find it” gives him a grand opportunity to use his nose. If he does so at a time you choose; his need to forage outside reduces AND you become way cooler because you gave him permission to use his snoot. Take a nosework class, another brilliant way to let your dog sniff around and not risk eating something that could hurt him.
As with many training cues, it does not take hours and hours a day to teach them but it does take practice. Practice is not shouting “leave it, leave it, leave it” as your dog tugs towards a chicken bone on the street. Spend some time teaching a new behavior, practice “leave it” and play with ways to encourage sniffing in safe spaces. Your walks will be much more enjoyable for all!