Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Dog training tip: Practice "Leave It" in the yard with your pug

Pug sitting nicely waiting for a command

It's really easy to get Liam to throw down a "Leave it" in the living room. I can put a toy, a cookie or a piece of cheese right between his front paws, and he won't move a muscle to get it. When we're in the living room, he is 100 percent focused on me and what I'd like for him to do.

If I wanted to sit back and congratulate myself on my trained house dog, I'd stop working on this command right now. But here's the thing: The objects I need Liam to leave alone on a regular basis are hardly ever in the living room.

Case in point: The other day, my husband found this little guy in our backyard. We think he fell out of the big trees waving in the wind on that stormy day, and while he was very much alive, he needed to be left in peace so his momma could get him.

Tiny pink baby squirrel in a box resting on a towel

Now I don't think Liam would eat a baby squirrel like this. But he might sniff it or paw at it or (heaven forbid) try to pick it up to bring it to me. Without a good "Leave it," I probably couldn't get him away from this squirrel before he did something that we might all regret.

So we've been working on this command in the yard. I bring out a bag of tasty treats, and I put them in my hand, on the ground or on Liam's paws and tell him to leave those treats alone. If he waits for a second or two, he can have a better treat that's in my hand.

While we're practicing, there are neighbors talking, birds chirping, other dogs and cats running by and various other distractions. It's loud and it's challenging, and it's much more similar to the situations he'll be facing when he uses this command in the real world. 

I'm hoping to pull this method out when we encounter small children, loud sirens or charging puppies. If I can get him to leave it and look at me instead, I'll have better control. He'll just never learn that lesson in the house.

This isn't a lesson that's easy for food-motivated and people-obsessed pugs like Liam to learn. But it's a vital one. So practice we will!

(And as an aside: That squirrel is fine. As soon as we found it, we were in touch with a wildlife rehab center and they provided detailed instructions about what we should do. We followed those instructions, but the mother never did venture out of the trees to pick up her baby, so we transported it to the center. The great team at Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center tell he's eating and getting great care. Yay!)

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