Leave It!
Training your dog to leave other animals alone

I am a wildlife biologist by trade; in my prime I was a student of wild geese in the arctic. My dogs (one Cardigan and one Norwegian elkhound in those days) have mostly been respectful of birds and strange mammals. In my research camp in the arctic, we had ptarmigan hens who nested under the guy ropes of our tents. If a dog got too close, the hen hissed, and the dog politely detoured around her. There were ground squirrels in the middle of the camp. For the first two years the elkhound dug and dug at the burrows. But later, I watched, from out of the dog's sight, as a ground squirrel carried kibble away from the dog's dish, six feet in front of a dog whose eyes were open, and ears alert, but who kept his nose on his paws. But, if a human was in sight, he seemed to think that it was his duty to chase the squirrel down the nearest burrow.

The corgi was my wife's dog, and she was a botanist. One day, out on the tundra, she was down on her hands and knees for more than an hour, counting new seedlings. The corgi curled up next to her and slept in the sun. She looked up, and there was a big bull caribou, less than 50 yards away. Caribou are very curious, and he was working his way upwind to see what this strange creature might be. Kaye said quietly "Dai, look". The dog went shooting out toward the caribou, barking his head off. The caribou stood his ground, so the corgi slowed, peed on a bush, walked across at right angles to pee on another bush, then trotted back to Kaye. The caribou drifted away at a walk, his curiosity satisfied.

I started training at an early age - "Leave it" My first Cardigan was very gentle with wild birds and small mammals, unless his elkhound partner was in sight. The elkhound was, in his early years, a killer, and the corgi seemed to want to keep up. One day I chased a wild gander who had molted his wing feathers, and had a "foreign" band on his leg. The elkhound shot past me, ran the bird down despite my yelling "NO"!! But, instead of killing it, when it stopped he picked it up and brought it back. He got all sorts of praise, and you could almost hear him say "Why didn't you tell me that you wanted them alive, I can do that!" And he retrieved gently for the next six years. I still don't know how the message got through to him. The corgi left geese strictly alone. They bite noses, ya know!

I did take both dogs down to the animal room in our university department, pull a rabbit out of a cage, let them sniff it, and, finally, when they seemed to be under control, put it on the floor and told the dog not to touch it. I only did this for one dog at a time. But I want my dogs, when visiting, to leave whatever pets alone. And I was able to take my Lisbeth into my boss' home, and she ignored the pet rabbit. There was no confrontation, the rabbit made himself scarce as soon as he saw the dog. I took my elderly Sam (CD) into a cat breeder's kitchen, and put him on a down stay. He stayed in one spot for an hour and a half, staring intently at a spot about four feet up a blank wall. His attitude was "Cat? Cats? I don't see any cats! If I don't see cats I don't have to deal with cats. Honest, I don't see any bloody cats!" We had cats at home when he was young, and his own cats were his friends. In fact I bought a kitten, and he treated her with respect. The breeder was convinced that her kitten would either meet an early end, or would have a nervous breakdown within a week. I sent her a picture, taken two weeks later, of one of my bitches at the door of a P-200 crate. Her six-week-old puppies were all over her, fast asleep. Curled up on her paws, under a protective muzzle and concerned expression, was a very smug Abyssinian kitten!

Another part of "leave it" training is also important - I want any dog to give up whatever the treasure is when I ask. More than once in those university days the dogs found a Colonel Sanders box full of bones that some student had dropped out of a car in the parking lot. Then again, once the elkhound had the idea of retrieving firmly in his head, he came up to me one day with something in his mouth. I held out my hand, and he dropped a day-old ptarmigan chick into it. It was wet from being in his mouth, but uninjured.

Dogs can be trained this way as individuals, and will do as you wish when you are there to supervise. However, two or more dogs are not reliable, especially when your back is turned. They certainly egg each other on, or have to impress their sidekicks. On the other hand, one retired brood bitch of mine went to a retired couple who breed show goats and show chickens. They report that she sized up the chickens within the first couple of days, and herds them!!

This sort of training can have a negative effect. When the CCCC (Canadian Cardigan Corgi Club) had its first herding instinct test, I entered six dogs. Out of a total entry of 25 dogs, seven failed. Six of the seven were mine! Puppies who passed with flying colours came from parents who failed. The classic was Selkirk, my BIS show dog. He was in the arena for several minutes without noticing any sheep. The tester called to me to go to the other side of the sheep and call him. Maybe he would notice the sheep when he got to them. Well, Selkirk came when called, bumping off sheepish legs as he came through the middle of a group of five ewes, all the while muttering "Sheep, sheep, I don't see any sheep. My Boss wants me to treat strange animals with respect. See what a good dog I am, Boss?"

At another herding instinct test, a friend of mine entered two smooth collies. The first one never saw a sheep in the allotted ten minutes. The second had not noticed a single sheep in the first seven minutes, so I called to Laura that she should chase the sheep herself. The collie watched this, then reacted as though she said "Oh, you mean it's OK to chase them? Well, in that case, let me show you how this is done." And she showed lots of herding talent for those last three minutes.

I am also convinced that you can't train every Cardigan to respect chickens, or rabbits, or hamsters. But most of them can learn to behave respectably.

Charlie MacInnes, Finnshavn Cardigans, Canada