Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Leave It, and Other Forms of Torture

(This originally started out as a blog about tougher exercises for impulse control, but somewhere along the way, I realized that I couldn't shut-up. So, I divided the post into three parts. Here's Part One: Leave It and Other forms of Torture. Stay Tuned for Part Two!) 

There are certain exercises that Rubi and I will be working on for the rest of her life. Auto watches and recalls, for example. And then there's our old stand-by, impulse control. I've already written about impulse control here and a few other times, although I just noticed now that I haven't actually dedicated a post to it yet - a terrible oversight on my part. Impulse control is just what it sounds like: it's teach a dog to curb their first, impulsive reaction to a stimulus. Most training falls into the category of impulse control, but there are certain exercises we go back to again and again because we can always make them more difficult. The key is to impulse control is to continue raising the stakes bit by bit to keep the games interesting and just challenging enough. Repeating the same thing over and over the same way leads to boredom for handler and dog (and also something about it leading to insanity, but I'm sure the voices in my head would warn me about something like that).

Leave It, and Other Forms of Torture
There are a lot of ways to teach "leave it," but my favorite culminates in the treats-on-the-paws trick. I start by showing Rubi a treat, and then I put the treat under my shoe. She wants the treat, so she paws at my shoe, whines a bit, and trying to suck the treat through my foot by inhaling so hard her eyes pop out. Eventually, she looks or moves away in frustration and click! I mark and hand a her a treat that's even better that what's under my shoe. Tasty! We repeat until she's no longer interested in what's under my shoe.

Then, I stop putting the treat under my shoe, and start moving it closer to her. The tricky part is making sure she never gets the treat on the floor, either by making sure it's close enough to step on or by blocking her with my body or leash. Rubi figures out that the treat on the floor isn't really where it's at. Looking away from the treat, especially at me, is how she gets the good stuff. And also by looking pathetic.

Rubi is very good at looking pathetic (also note the dog sitting behind her - yay!).

Treats-on-the-paws lends merges very easily into another crowd pleaser: throwing treats at your dog. This one starts the same: I put a treat under my foot and mark when she moves or looks away. Then, instead of moving the treat closer to her, I start dropping the treat from a few inches up. Moving treats are always more interesting than stationary treats, so I'm careful to drop it close enough to my foot that I can still step on it to keep her from getting the treat. Eventually, she'll figure out that she can't get the treat on the floor, but the faster she looks back to me, the faster she'll get a better treat from my hand. Once B no longer flinches toward the treat when I drop it from waist height, I start throwing it closer and closer to her. I need to be careful what angle I throw it at, though, since B will snatch them out of the air if I throw them too close to her face. There isn't anything wrong with that in my book; I've actively taught her to do that as part of another trick. It'd be really cruel of me to be upset at Rubi for doing something I've intentionally taught her to do. So I angle the treats down and between her legs, while she stares at me calmly and waits for the treat she actually gets to eat. Most of the time, anyway.

And just in case you thought Rubi was the only dog in the whole wide world that I torment like this . . .


  1. Very impressive! 'Leave it' is the next behavior on my list to proof with Skye. I think I'll try the method you described- thanks!

  2. That second photo CRACKS ME UP. Nice work!