A Trifecta of Useful Skills: leave it, take, drop
Updated: May 18, 2020
Every pup would benefit from learning these three skills, but they’re especially useful when there are children in the home. I worked on these skills with a pup who was visiting here recently. He lives in a household that includes active children who really enjoy playing with him.
Imagine the wonderful temptations a puppy would likely have access to in a home with kids. Things like:
Children’s toys and stuffed animals
Shoes, mittens, scarves
Snacks held at teasingly low heights in a child’s hand
Stray snacks left in puppy-accessible locations
To make matters worse, both adults and children may be tempted to chase a puppy when he grabs a taboo item, thus making the item even more precious and exciting to the pup. Many bored pups quickly learn to steal taboo items expressly to get a chase game started. How much better would it be if we noticed the pup picking up an approved dog toy and then joining him in some fun play with that?
Children (and adults!) can certainly learn to engage their pup in play with approved doggie toys. But if the pup learns no rules around such play, his behavior may start to shift in unpleasant ways. Some issues that may crop up include:
Unintentional or out-of-control tug games where the puppy refuses to let go of the toy
Jumping and grabbing at held toys that may lead to accidental tooth contact on hands
Play migrating to unapproved items, like grabbing the fabric of a child’s PJs or pants legs or shirt, dangling scarves, shoe strings, etc.
How do we resolve these issues? We teach these three highly useful skills –
LEAVE IT – this means don’t touch the temptation in the first place
DROP – this means let go of whatever object is currently in your mouth
TAKE IT (or GET IT) – this means the pup may now take hold of the desired item
All of these skills can be taught with ease using positive reinforcement strategies. Each skill should then be practiced with a variety of items so the puppy develops a really strong understanding of each cue.
For example, my recent puppy visitor is insanely in love with flirt pole play. (Seen here.) Letting go of that toy was quite a challenge for him at first. So I began his training on DROP inside first, with less valuable toys. It was also a very handy cue for when he picked up a stray sock or shoe. Without any ugly tone from me, or competitiveness over the item, he was thrilled to drop when requested because it had become a highly reinforced behavior.
When DROP training began outside with the flirt pole, I quickly saw that I needed to use the very best treats to sufficiently motivate him to want to let go. But over time and practice, the use of food could be faded, and the new reinforcer for dropping the toy was permission to start chasing the flirt pole again!
Teaching opposing skills in pairs, like DROP and GET IT, or LEAVE IT and TAKE IT, also helps clarify things for the pup. He learns precisely when to disengage from the item or temptation, and when it’s permissible to have it.
Here are a couple video clips showing the puppy’s progress on these skills:
If you’d like assistance teaching these very useful skills, I’d be happy to help. :-)
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, puppy matchmaking services, and pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120
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