You have taught your dog to leave things alone when you are next to her. She is great about leaving food alone when you have guests over and are watching the big game or the New Year's Eve celebration on television. But, the moment you leave the room she makes a beeline for the table and grabs everything in sight like it is an after Christmas sale. What can you do?
It is important to make sure your dog understands that she needs to leave certain areas alone, no matter where you are. That concept is much easier for dogs if you are consistent from the beginning. What this means for you, is you need to be crystal clear what your dog is allowed to interact with. For instance, if you want your dog to never take food off of your coffee table, you should make sure that she NEVER puts her nose over the coffee table's edge whether there is food on it or not.
Other examples include counter tops, your children's play area, or a specific room of the house. I will use a coffee table as the example here because that is what I use in my video.
These are all important elements when working on the advanced exercises. Make sure these are solid before moving on to the more advanced strategies.
- Before your dog can be trusted leaving an area alone you have to manage her when you are out of the room. If she interacts with the coffee table when you are out of the room and then quickly moves away from it when she hears you approach, you are teaching her to be sneaky. You are not teaching her to leave the coffee table alone. Management options include baby gates, crates or putting her on leash and bringing her with you when you leave the room.
- Make sure you have identified a timeout area for your dog
- Make sure you have a solid "leave it". If you think your dog is moving towards the off-limits area, you can use "leave it" as a warning cue and a timeout if she crosses the line.
Advanced Steps - Still in the Room
Once you have the basics, now is the fun part. Keep in mind that if your dog gets something that is off-limits just one time, you have created a lot of extra work for yourself. You will get to the final goal much faster if you never make a mistake and put your dog in a situation that is too advanced. If you are not sure of your dog's current skill-level, use a long leash as a safety net to ensure success, keep the food far away from the edge, and only leave for VERY short periods of time.
- Have your dog trail a leash so you can gently grab her and redirect her, if necessary or use a timeout as needed.
- Make sure it is crystal-clear what is the wrong answer. With coffee tables, I recommend the criteria of putting a nose over the edge as the first "wrong answer" no matter how close she is to the food item.
- You should now focus on duration of time that your dog can leave a location alone and the distance that you are away from the your dog.
- Start by keeping the food far away from the edge of the coffee table to make it more difficult and less enticing for your dog. Give your dog a lot of encouragement for leaving it alone. Occasionally give treats for not interacting with the table. Make sure you reward for behaviors that are appropriate such as looking at you, sitting next to the table, lying down, etc.
- Use a timeout for each infraction. Say, "timeout" and gently put your dog in another room or a crate for 5-30 seconds. Only take your dog out of the timeout if she is calm.
- After each timeout, pay attention to all the "right" answers and give verbal feedback and/or treats for everything but a wrong answer. Wrong answers include putting a nose over the edge or putting a paw on the table. Of course, grabbing the food is the ultimate wrong answer, but you need to ensure that this doesn't happen or you are teaching your dog to be speedier in order to get an object that is off-limits. I want your dog to consciously avoid a certain area that you have defined to be off-limits, not to be sneaky when she can get away with it.
- Once your dog can easily leave the food item alone for 5 minutes with you right next to her, you can now add some distance.
- Assuming you are sitting on the couch next to your dog and the coffee table, stand up and take one step away.
- Say, "yes" or 'click' if you are using a clicker and give your dog a treat.
- Start again from the couch each time and add more steps.
- Stand up and take two steps away. During the first step, give verbal praise. After the second step, give your reward marker ("yes" or 'click") and treat.
- Continue this process until you are almost out of the room. It is important to stay at one distance for a period of time and occasionally give verbal praise while working on duration and distance. You don't want your dog to just leave food alone for 5 seconds, you want her to be able to leave it alone for extended periods of time.
- When working on distance, you can occasionally come back, give a treat and move away again. This is one more way to reward a specific behavior.
- If your dog ever starts to go towards the location, say, "Leave It". "Good girl" if she leaves it, "Timeout" if she continues and makes a wrong decision.
- If your dog immediately makes a mistake when you add distance, start at a shorter distance and practice until your dog can leave the object alone for at least 5 minutes. If you can't add distance at all, work at adding more duration while you are right next to your dog.
- Don't forget about using a leash, if necessary, to ensure that your dog doesn't quickly grab an object.
Advanced Steps - Out of the Room
Don't move on to this step until you have a lot of duration at each distance while you are still in the room. Don't forget it is really critical that your dog never gets an object that you don't want her to get.
- Leave for one second, come back and click and treat.
- Leave for two seconds, come back and click and treat.
- If you need a bit more control, use a long leash while you are leaving the room. The leash should be kept loose, but you should be prepared to tighten it gently and move your dog away from the location, if necessary.
- Stand out of the room and "peek" around the corner occasionally as you increase time. This is not a true measure of your dog's ability, because she is most likely aware you are there. However, she is still controlling her natural instinct to grab the food. This is the long-term lesson you are teaching.
- Next you can leave and come back multiple times, providing verbal praise for many of the returns and reward with treats occasionally. "Good girl, you didn't take the food . . .. oh, nice job, you are doing great. . . ."
- Use"leave it" as a way to remind your dog that she should not interact with the location, and timeouts for making a mistake.
- Don't move too quickly. This exercise could take a long time depending on how often you practice and how consistent you are.
- "Leave it" is an important communication tool. It is a warning that your dog is about to make a mistake. Practice "leave it" a lot with a variety of objects and locations.
- After a few sessions, use timeouts immediately for each infraction