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Leave It? Nailed It! Your Ultimate Guide to Teaching Your Dog Self-Control

Does your dog go into a frenzy anytime you break out the treat bag? Or maybe they just can’t resist rushing the front door and jumping all over your visitors? A lack of self-control and impulse control can lead to some seriously problematic behaviours for our Fidos.

From counter surfing and rubbish bin raiding to leash pulling and failing to come when called, insufficient self-control is at the root of many dog owners’ struggles. But don’t fret – there’s a highly effective (and fun!) way to teach your dog the crucial “leave it” cue and build rock solid impulse control. What’s the secret weapon? Games of course!

While traditional training methods like drilling the “leave it” command can work, they’re often boring for both you and your dog (yawn). Dogs (and humans) thrive on physical and mental stimulation, so incorporating games into your training routine is brilliant for two reasons:

1) It keeps your pup engaged and having fun during training session, making the training process more positive and enjoyable for both of you. A happy learner is a better learner! 

2) It simulates real-world scenarios in a safe, controlled environment where your dog can practice mastering impulse control around high-value distractions and temptations. Remember that practice makes perfect!

If helping your pooch become an awesome and well-behaved dog sounds like a dream, keep reading! We’re about to dive into some games to teach your pooch self-control.

The “Leave It” Foundation

Before playing any games, your dog needs to understand what the “leave it” cue means. Classical conditioning lays the groundwork here – you’re letting your dog know that leaving something alone results in a better reward.

This game is an adaption on Absolute Dog’s Mouse Game. To get started, have a couple of smelly treats (high value) in one hand and some lower value treats or your dog’s kibble in the other hand. Let your dog sniff the amazing treats in your closed fist to build some serious desire, then give the “leave it” cue and wait. As soon as your dog pulls their head away, reinforce that brilliant move with a reward from your other hand. Repeat this-leave the good stuff, get the mediocre reward-until your pup consistently moves their nose away and focuses on you when given the cue. You may have to put some skin in the game to teach a solid ‘leave it”. Your dog will likely mug your hand to try and get the smelly treats

Pro tip: Keep practice sessions brief at first, just a few minutes at a time. You want your dog working for those reinforcers while they’re still motivated, not after they’ve become bored or fatigued.

5 Scent Games to Reinforce “Leave It”

Once your dog understands the meaning of “leave it”, it’s time to level up the difficulty by adding movement, distance, and duration challenges into the mix through fun games!

1. The Shuffle Game

This game builds on the initial “leave it” training by adding movement. Place a treat or two on the floor in plain sight, then give your leave it cue and shuffle the treats around with your hands or feet while covering them. Your dog has the task to ignore the tantalizing moving targets to earn rewards from your other hand. As they catch on, make the game harder by sliding the treats further away or doing quick fake the take.

2. Leave It Pupper Pushups

Another great game for reinforcing your dog’s stay. Hold a treat right to your dog’s nose to amp up their desire, give the “leave it” cue and take the treat up and to the side like you’re doing a lateral raise with your arm, then back down to reset their impulse control. Repeat the “puper pushup” movement left, right, up and down while rewarding with your other hand each time your pupper maintains that laser focus on you rather than the treat. 

3. Doggy in the Middle Impulse Control

This game can be wild! Prepare for high energy and remember to finish with a calming game from your repertoire to help your dog come back down to earth. Have two people kneel facing each other with treats on the ground in front of them, taking turns calling your dog to collect their reward. Your doggy has to leave the treats being dropped by person 1 to go to person 2 who is calling them and vice versa.  Your doggy in the middle has to master leaving one temptation to earn the other.

4. It’s Raining Treats!

This game is super fun and works on your dog’s stay and wait cues as well. Toss a handful of treats on the floor and have your dog “leave it” as they rain down around them. Once they’ve held their stay, release them to joyfully vacuum up all the treats on the ground. For an extra challenge, try mixing in pieces of kibble or lower value treats they have to ignore among the fall.  It’s like a ‘let snackies rain from the sky’ scatter feed

5. The Impulse Control Walking Game

One of the best parts about teaching your dog self-control through games is you can take those skills on the road! On walks, ask your pup to “leave it” whenever they show interest in a distraction like food on the ground, another dog passing by, or an interesting scent. When they calmly disengage and refocus on you, reward that brilliant behaviour with tasty treats from your treat pouch or pocket.

Over time playing the games you’ll soon have an incredibly well-behaved pup who listens to you no matter what exciting scenarios they encounter.

No more gobbling unattended snacks off counters or jumping all over visitors as they enter your home! Building solid self-control through the power of play sets your dog up for success as a pupper superstar.

Game On! Let’s Play!


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