Dogs rely on their incredible sense of smell to help them identify things like threats, food, mates and companions. The only problem is that sometimes in order to be sure of the nature of an object they must get up close to it. For an owner, this can often lead to anxiety about their dog’s safety. Learning how to train a dog to ‘walk away’ can help to calm nerves.
An object on the ground, a new person or another animal will pique the interest of the curious dog. In order to find out what something is she will move towards it using her instinctive stalking technique. ‘Dogs will stalk, crouch and creep,’ says veterinary behaviourist Dr. Nicholas Dodman.
If you watch a wolf stalk its prey in the wild you will notice it move in much the same way as your dog does when she approaches the unknown entity. However, sometimes you may not want your dog to be interested. That may be because you (with better eyesight) can see that an object is potentially harmful, or a person they are approaching is scared, or another animal is poised to protect itself. You may then try to call your dog away but she doesn’t respond.
The steps to success
The following is one way to train your dog to respond to ‘leave it’ quickly and safely, which can also be interpreted as ‘walk away’:
- Hold a treat (as bait) in your fist and hold your fist in front of your dog.
- When her attention falls to your fist tell her in a calm voice to ‘leave it’.
- When she gives up being interested in your fist give her praise and hand her the treat. Mastering these three steps ensures that your dog will hear your command even when she is interested in something.
Now get your dog to look at you instead of your fist.
- Hold a treat in your fist as you did before.
- When her focus falls on your fist tell her in a calm tone to ‘leave it’.
- When she gives up again don’t use your praise word until she looks up at you. 4. When she looks up give her praise and the treat.
Now transfer the treat to the floor:
- Place the bait on the floor and cover it with your hand.
- When her attention falls to the bait tell her in a calm tone to ‘leave it’.
- When she gives up don’t use your praise word until she looks up at you.
- When she looks up give her praise and the treat.
- Repeat steps 1 – 4 and as you do, raise your hand above the bait a little more each time.
By the time your hand is a foot from the floor you should try to repeat the process without covering the bait at all. Use these steps to urge your dog to pay more attention to you than the object. She should improve each time you repeat the process. If you feel confident enough that she has mastered the art of walking away, take her outdoors and be ready to issue the command.