Like toddlers who grab and touch everything, canines can be curious to a fault. Without hands and digits, their mouths are the primary tool for exploration. Scarfing up scraps dropped from the dinner table or a hapless moth that ventures inside are generally harmless, but one wrong swallow can spell disaster.
My sister’s Doberman swallowed part of a corn cob at a cookout that resulted in severe intestinal blockage. An emergency $6,000 surgery saved his life, but that’s an exorbitant expense that many can’t handle. Dogs are mouthy, hungry beasts and it’s important to train them to “leave it” on the ground, regardless of how tempting it is. Learning “leave it” can prevent illness and just might save your pup’s life (not to mention your bank balance).
Related: What is Pet Insurance and is it Worth the Money?
Keeping your house free of clutter and small objects that a dog can swallow is a good start. Something as simple as a Lego can have heartbreaking consequences. Prevention, however, is only half of the battle. Your dog doesn’t live in a bubble and, once outside, all bets are off. Discarded gum, chicken bones and broken plastic might seem gross to you (I assume you wouldn’t put those in your mouth), but to your dog, it’s all a potentially delicious opportunity.
Sidewalks can be dumpsters without walls. Your dog can bite into a KFC leftover or dropped medication before you realize something’s happened. Often times, you can grab whatever they’re chewing and toss it aside, but that just leaves a nasty hand and another dog could suffer a worse fate later. Training your dog to “leave it” and ignore foreign objects is the best way to avoid both vomit at 2am and potentially life-threatening situations.
Odds are you’re not constantly watching your dog during walks or outdoor playtime. You can’t avoid every nasty thing on the ground from ending up in the jaws of your furball, so it’s ultimately up to them to learn self-control. The goal is to go from understanding “leave it” to simply ignoring discarded garbage on the ground.
Dogs can be stubborn and “leave it” training isn’t a simple, overnight exercise. Similar to housetraining, it takes patience, persistence and time. Just be consistent and don’t give up easily, and your dog will catch on. A popular method is the “take it” and “leave it” approach.
This teaches your dog to first wait until a command is given, for example “take it” or “get it”, and then she receives a treat. Start off by allowing your dog to see the treat.
If you’ve conquered the “take it” lesson, congratulations. Between work and kids and still trying to find toilet paper at the store, you’ve taught your dog to have impulse control. He can wait for your say-so to snatch the treat. Now it’s time to advance from your hand to the world at large. Your pup has already proven receptive to the concept, so you’re halfway there.
Take your dog outside and drop some treats on the ground, saying “leave it” when he shows interest. If he persists, gently tug him away and repeat the command. When he starts to ignore them, provide a better treat, just like you did earlier in the training. Through positive reinforcement, he’s learning to ignore things on the ground and the “leave it” command reinforces that you’re the one who decides what’s allowed.
In big cities with an abundance of human traffic, sidewalks and grassy areas are just teeming with hazards. Teaching your dog to ignore the gum and chocolate wrapper and other nastiness on the ground will be one less headache in your life and, of course, keep your four-legged family member safe.
I talked with Kate Naito, professional dog trainer and award-winning author of two books, about the importance of “leave it” training.
“Leave it” is a great behavior to teach dogs, but it takes time and lots of practice to teach properly. It’s natural for dogs to see a piece of trash or maybe the neighbor’s cat, and then immediately go for it without thinking.”
“The mistake is to think, My dog loves to pick up chicken bones on the street, so I’m going to just say ‘leave it’ when he goes for a chicken bone and pull him away. While some dogs may learn this pattern, it’s not really teaching the dog impulse control.”
In addition to “leave it” training, you may need to teach your new dog other lessons, such as housetraining. If you’re searching for a new best friend, check out our Dog Breed Search page to learn more about specific breeds and traits. If you know exactly what you’re looking for, head to our Adopt a Dog page and find that perfect companion. With almost 200 recognized breeds (and countless shelter dogs), a perfect match is just a click or two away.
AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE:Rescue Pop is committed to providing original pet-friendly content to our readers. Rescue Pop may at times receive compensation from our partners or use affiliate links to promote products and services featured on our website. Examples of affiliate links are links to Chewy and Amazon. As an Amazon Associate Rescue Pop earns from qualifying purchases. Please know, your trust is important to us. If we recommend anything, it is always, first and foremost, because we believe it is worth exploring.
No spam, notifications only about rescue pet news, new products and updates.
The Ulti-Mutt Guide for Rescue Pets and their Pawsome Pet Parents.