To take or not to take, that is the question. Rio consistently answers that as a “not to take.” Two weekends ago I took Rio to the Pittsburgh Art’s Festival. It was opening weekend and the weather was absolutely gorgeous (which is rare) so it was crowded as all could be. Thousands of people at this event, loud music, and tons of super yummy food. Since he’s been socialized to events like this, he was cool as a cucumber the entire time. I got hungry and decided to get some yummy food. They have a food booth section of about 15 food venues lined up next to one another. There are no tables or places to sit and eat so people stand around or sit on the ground–either way the ground was littered in bread, lettuce, tomatoes, chicken, french fries, funnel cake, onions peppers, etc. (now I’m hungry for funnel cake!). As I walked through looking for something to eat, Rio’s nose only went to the ground twice… he must have walked over hundreds of yummy things but he still chose not to touch all but a few (and then a simple “leave it” was enough to get him to not take the food). I had a handful of people comment on how well behaved he was in the craziness and two of them were when we walked through the food section… they couldn’t believe that he wasn’t just eating from the buffet on the ground.
Honestly, I couldn’t either. I was so very proud of him. Passing up an item or two while on a walk is a good result… but the smorgasbord board of food that he passed up, with out me cuing anything,at the arts festival was truly amazing. I thought about how it would have been with Shayne… my poor starved, formerly food aggressive, food monger…. and although she’s got a rock solid leave it, I know that if she’d been there it would have been a much bigger challenge.
So what makes them so different? Well, Shayne was taught a “leave it” cue from the beginning. She would leave things alone if I asked her to leave it but she was never taught to make a choice, to make a decision not to take things on her own. Rio on the other hand didn’t learn a leave-it cue until well after he had learned how to make a choice and be rewarded for it through It’s Yer Choice training. I’ve recently gone back and worked with Shayne with It’s Yer Choice, and she’s done really well, but I can still see a difference.
Some of my students wonder why I dont’ start adding the “leave it” cue until the very end of a 7 week class… I explain that we are teaching their dogs to make their own choice and not just listen to your cue. If you get a dog who can make their own choices, you won’t have to be on top of the ball as much in management. If a dog requires a “leave it” cue to not take an item, what happens when your dog finds chicken bones before you see them? That’s right, they are down the hatch before you can even spit the words out of your mouth.
I took some video the other day of Rio and Shayne practicing It’s Yer Choice work. It is a set up but is comparable to what would happen if we find possible food while on a walk. The dogs are being bated with really high-value rewards… raw pig tails and a raw chicken back… aka dinner or snacks! Both dogs did extremely well–I was actually surprised because I’d never used such high-value bait before… so, here’s the video, I hope you enjoy!