This video is a demonstration of the importance of foundation work before getting into the Protection Work. Even though “Leave-it” isn’t necessarily used in protection work very often, the impulse control it teaches and being able to think when a high value item is in front of the dog does apply. A “Leave-it” command can also be a life saving command so I take teaching this to all the dogs I train very seriously.
A dog cannot lie to us if one learns what to look for. What a dog is thinking mentally comes out in their physical being and vice versa. The two are connected and influence each other in a very complex way. This is why when dealing with aggressive dogs or those with impulse control issues, it is a great tool to have in your arsenal. The only way to be able to use a “Leave-it” to a level of ultimate control when something like an aggressive dog is lunging in front of your dog or there is a decoy in a bite suit, you have to train that dog to understand that the object in front of them doesn’t exist anymore.
“Leave-it” needs to be taught in stages and add layers of complexity along the way. First the dog needs to be taught that they are not allowed to physically engage with whatever it is. During the teaching stage, the dog is still allowed to look at or even bark at the object depending on the level of distraction it is for that dog. Unfortunately this stage is where most owners and trainers stop. Yes the dog isn’t physically engaging, but every part of their being is still zoned in on the distraction. Staying in this worked up, physical state never allows the dog to calm down mentally. This may not be a problem if your social, fun loving dog is staring down a tennis ball, but can have disastrous effects if it is a 120 pound dog that has multiple bites under its belt and is staring down a person or another dog. The mind influences the body and the body influences the mind. A great example of this is tension on the leash. When owners anticipate an issue with their dog they tighten up on the leash (mental influencing physical)…which cues the dog that something must be wrong (physical influencing mental)…which causes the dog to react (mental causing physical reaction)…then the owner’s fears are validated (physical reaction causing mental reaction)…which causes the owner to pull tighter next time and the a vicious cycle begins. In many instances this cycle can be broken by simply never putting tension on the leash.
Once the physical layer is very clear and understood 110% by the dog, you begin adding a second layer where the dog is not allowed to even look at the object. This takes a great deal of trust in the handler for the dog to do this, especially when it comes to fear aggressive dogs with a live distraction in front of them. I see many frustrated owners in both the pet and working dog worlds when they don’t have the level of control they want in their dog. Most of the time it comes down to not understanding the connection between physical and mental states of dogs. Most of the time when something like a “Leave-it” needs to be used it is trying to suppress a drive or behavior at a genetic level. In order to manage and control genetic drives in a dog, the people working with that dog need to understand what is going on at a psychological level every step of the way in real time. This kind of understanding is very often the difference between a dog with amazing control, and a dog that is considered untrainable and can’t be helped.
You can see in the video that the dog breaks off immediately and engages with the handler to see what the next command is. When he is released back into the object, he does so without hesitation. This is a very clear indicator that the dog fully understands what is expected of him. There is absolutely no stress or conflict even though this is a very high value item for the dog. If we saw any signs of stress or hesitation, we would go back into the training plan and figure out where we either missed or skipped a step and confused the dog.