Why “Leave It” Should Be One Of The First Skills You Teach Your Dog

Why “Leave It” Should Be One Of The First Skills You Teach Your Dog


It’s common knowledge dogs love to put things in their mouths; weird things like delicious rocks and sticks. Things we treasure and worked hard for like purple Ferragamo pumps. Disgusting things like wet coffee grounds or other trash. And truly OMG WTF things like dirty underwear, chicken bones found on the street and dead squirrels in the park.

To pet parents, this behavior is, well, unimaginable and we often chalk it up to some version of, “dogs will be dogs…” To an extent, that is true, but, as in all things dog, there are logical reasons for this behavior.

Why “Leave It” Should Be One Of The First Skills You Teach Your Dog

There are three primary reasons dogs love to put things in their mouths:

  1. Learning Process: Dogs explore and learn about their world primarily with their nose and mouth. Smelling, licking, chewing and mouthing are some of the most important ways dogs learn about, process and understand their environment. Dogs have approximately 1,500 taste buds, humans have about 9,000. This means how things taste isn’t as important to dogs as it is to humans, so just about anything a dog encounters is on the menu. Goodbye, sexy time underwear!This species-specific learning process is especially relevant and important when living with puppies, who are learning about their world every hour of every day and are kinda famous for putting everything! in their mouth. “Puppy-Proofing” your house is a thing for a reason!
  2. Genetics/ Breed Behavior: Another key factor that can cause dogs to put inappropriate things in their mouths is genetics. Humans long ago selectively bred each breed of dog to perform a specific task or fulfill a specific role in our lives. The most obvious and relevant example to this discussion are retrievers. Retrievers of all kinds were bred to go pick something up and bring it back to us. Just because most people with retrievers today no longer expect or want their dogs to retrieve things, a retriever’s brain is hardwired to retrieve; it’s their job and purpose. So, in addition to the nature of how dogs learn about their environment, breed and genetics play an important role.
  3. Personality: In addition to species-specific learning process and breed/ genetics, a dog’s individual personality can impact what type of inappropriate or unimaginable things he puts in his mouth. Like humans, each dog has his own personality and this can play an important role in what, if any, head-scratching things things your dog puts in his mouth.

Teaching your dog to “Leave It” is critical. This is a skill both you and your dog must master early, and for some very good reasons.

monkey & dogs

It’s also important to understand that “Leave It’ is different than “Drop It.” “Leave It” is proactive and prevents your dog from picking something up. “Drop It” is reactive and involves telling your dog to drop something he already has in his mouth.

By watching your dog closely and being aware of dangers in his environment you can use “Leave It” to prevent him from picking up an unwanted item. However, if he has already picked up something dangerous or you don’t want him to have, you have to be reactive and tell him to “Drop It.”

We will discuss and tackle “Drop It” in a future lesson.

From a health and safety perspective, by teaching “Leave It”  you can help your dog avoid exposure to infectious diseases, parasites and other dangers. Some very common examples are:

  • Viral infections
  • Bacterial infections
  • Internal parasites, such as hookworms, roundworms, whipworms and the protozoan parasite giardia among others
  • External parasites, such as demodectic mange, sarcoptic mange (scabies), fleas and ticks among others

Side Note: Many of the organisms above can infect humans too! So in addition to avoiding an unwanted and unexpected vet visit, you are also keeping yourself and your whole family healthy!

Remember: To successfully teach and then use the “Leave It” command, you need to keep a careful eye on your dog at all times so you can prevent him from engaging with or picking up inappropriate or dangerous things.

Because “Leave It” is so important, it is one of the very first skills I teach a dog and her family. Knowing that your dog will consistently leave something alone when instructed helps keep your dog safe, can save you money from preventable visits to the vet, helps keep you and your entire family healthy and helps promote a positive and harmonious home and relationship with your dog.

I’d love to hear from you!
So leave a comment below and join the conversation!

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