“Leave it” was one of the best tricks they taught us in our SmartyPup 101 training class — and I should put tricks in quotation marks because it’s more of a basic life skill for dogs than something you just want to show off to your friends. It’s when you practice putting a treat on the ground, but teach your dog to leave it there instead of eating it. This involves a lot of gnawed-on fingers to start, as you cover up the treat with your hand while saying “leave it”; but once he gets it, it’s impressive to see how much restraint a puppy is able to exhibit.
At first, we just thought it was fun to practice “leave it”, marveling at how our puppy Brewster could resist a huge piece of beef jerky on the ground (soon to be rewarded, of course, with another piece of jerky that we would feed him while saying “take it”). But then we started realizing that “leave it” came in handy in all sorts of situations that could be potentially dangerous to him — when walking outside and passing by a piece of food or trash that he otherwise would have tried to pick up and eat; while cooking in the kitchen, dropping random pieces of food that aren’t good for dogs to ingest; anytime we dropped some random object that was bite-sized like a plastic bottle cap, a screw, or a vitamin.
When I’m cooking in the kitchen and drop something, if it’s healthy enough (like a baby carrot or piece of spinach), I’ll just let Brewster be my canine vacuum cleaner, which works out for both of us. But it’s good to be familiar with which foods aren’t healthy for dogs, so you know when to employ the “leave it” command. Most people seem to know that chocolate isn’t good for dogs, but I was surprised to learn about a few of the other ones:
- Onions & Garlic (in any form)
- Grapes & Raisins
- Chocolate (the darker it is, the worse it is)
- Macadamia Nuts
- Cooked Bones & Fat Trimmings
- Caffeine (coffee, tea, etc.)
- Dairy Products (milk, ice cream, etc.)
- Xylitol, a sweetener found in candy, gum, baked goods, and sugar-free diet foods
- Bread Dough containing yeast
- Raw Eggs
- Raw Meat & Fish* (can contain bacteria or parasites)
- Salty Foods (too much salt can lead to sodium ion poisoning)
- Sugary Foods (can lead to weight & dental problems, and even diabetes)
- Medicine (never try to self-diagnose your dog)
- Baking Powder & Baking Soda
- Nutmeg & Other Spices
- Raw Potatoes
*Some dog professionals will recommend certain raw bones, like chicken wings or marrow, to keep your dog’s teeth & gums healthy. But it’s best to speak with your trainer or vet to find out which would be right for your dog.