Leave it; please and thank you
With the Christmas season upon us; many people complain about their dog getting to the tree. "How do you teach a dog not to go after your decorations?" Simple; you just don't allow it. That said they must be taught the "leave it" exercise. Once you start to teach this exercise you will wonder how you ever lived with a dog that doesn't know about the "leave it."
This exercise starts out simple; you put food down and tell your dog to "leave it." When they don't touch it you reward them with something else. This is where alot of people get it wrong. If you ask your dog to leave something and give them a pat on the head; chances are next time they are going for it. Dogs are smart; why should leave something just because you say so?
If you reward them for leaving an item then you get a much quicker learned response and then you can move onto the tough stuff really fast. You can start tossing things and asking them to leave it; reward. Once they understand fully what "leave it" means you can use it for anything. I used it to stop leash lunging at other dogs on the beach before; worked wonders.
The secret is to reward for leaving it at the beginning of the learning. Make sure that the dog never gets the item that you have asked them to leave; even if that means you have to make a death defying dive onto the item. Once they get the basic idea then you move to different areas, use different objects with distractions.
The toy I wrote about the other day that Luke wanted so badly was a "leave it" situation. It was truly amazing to me how much power it could yield. There sat a new toy on the floor; but the rule was "leave it." He did nibble it a couple of times but he never took it. He could have easily grabbed it and made a run for it.
It is also very important not to leave your dog with the item they are to leave alone. Say the Christmas tree; if you go out and leave them with it you are not there to enforce not touching it. So until you have a 95% success rate don't set your dog up for failure by asking too much.
There is no such thing as 100% success in anyone, dogs or humans.