If your dog is a family member and also a guard, teaching her to refuse food from strangers is important and may save her life. It is not always easy so find out the best methods and start today.
In some places a dog will not need to worry about being poisoned by a stranger, but teaching a dog to refuse food from strangers may save her life. If you live in a country where this is a problem, start teaching your dog today. Even if you do not live in a place where you think this is a problem, a thief may notice your guard dog and poison her to gain entry, or a malicious neighbor may poison your dog just because he does not like her.
Either way, I think that this is something that all dogs need. So how are you going to teach your dog to avoid tainted food?
Teaching a Dog to Leave It
Some dogs can easily be trained to refuse food from a stranger using the “leave it” command.
- I hold a treat in my right hand, let the dog sniff it, then tell her “leave it” and close my hand.
- Some dogs will sit and bark for the treat, some will try to get the treat out of your hand, and others will just stare at you. When the dog stops focusing on my hand I praise her and give her a different treat from my left hand.
- Repeat the first two steps as often as necessary. When the dog always leaves your hand alone and stops staring as soon as you tell her leave it, go on to the next step.
- The next step is to put the treat on the floor and let the dog sniff it. As soon as she does I cover it and tell her “leave it”. When she stops focusing on the treat and looks up at me, I give her a treat with my left hand. (If she does not respond when you tell her “leave it”, put a leash on her and tell her to “sit” so that she will start thinking about the leash and stop thinking about the treat.)
- Try dropping a treat on the floor and telling your dog “leave it” without covering the treat. If she goes for the treat instead of obeying you should go back to the beginning and train her to ignore the treat in your hand.
- Once the dog has learned “leave it”, and you are positive that she will respond to your command 100% of the time, have her learn to refuse food from strangers. Using bait that she really likes (fresh meat, hot dogs, liver chunks, etc), the stranger walks by the yard and tosses the food to the dog while you are present. If she goes to smell the food, tell her to “leave it” before she even starts to eat. (If you are not positive that she will respond all of the time go ahead and leave her on a leash when teaching this exercise.)
- Once you are confident that she will not take the food when you are close, sit in the house where you can see her when the stranger tosses bait. If she goes to smell it, yell “leave it” from the window so that assumes you are always watching.
This sounds more difficult than it is. Some dogs will learn this in a day, others might require more time.
Teaching a dog “leave it” will not work for all dogs. How do you reinforce training for a dog that does not respond to “leave it”?
- It may help to train your dog to take food only from the bowl. Have a visitor to your house offer her a treat by hand, and when she starts to takes it, tell her “no” and take her to her bowl to eat a treat. (If you use this method and it does work, you have to make sure you take your dog´s bowl with her if she is boarded, hospitalized, etc.)
- Use a slip collar (choke chain) and attach it before taking the dog for a stroll throughout the yard. Let the dog stop to sniff bait placed in the yard by a stranger, but as soon as he goes to eat it pull up on the collar and say “no”. When the dog loses interest in the bait, it is a good idea to give him a treat and lots of praise. (This may take longer than teaching the “leave it” command, but the amount of time required will vary depending on the dog.)
- Some trainers recommend the use of an electronic collar. Have food thrown in the yard by strangers, as I detailed above under the “leave it” section. As soon as the dog goes for the bait, give him a zap so that he associates the food outside in the yard with a negative stimulus.
- I have also read that some people have strangers hit their dogs when taking bait. I do not recommend this since it is more likely to make your dog shy of strangers or aggressive to all humans.
Some dogs have an instinct not to take food from strangers and need almost no training. Dogs are scavengers, however, and naturally test almost everything they find to see if it is edible. My dogs still think things they find on the beach are worth testing for taste, despite all of their training.
Keep working at it—someday it may save your dog´s life.