Teaching your dog to “leave it” is training your dog to stop doing something. A solid “leave it” skill can be important and even save your dog’s life! Dogs are fast and get into things they shouldn’t very quickly – as illustrated by my foster puppy in the photo above! You can often head off potentially dangerous situations with a good “leave it” in advance.You can start with training a very simple “leave it” command, and have that command then expand to cover other situations where you want your dog to stop doing something and focus on you. Here’s how…
Leave it: Do not eat that trash on the ground
Leave it: Do not go near that scared child
Leave it: Do not pick up that ball so I can throw it for you
Leave it: Stop staring at that cat/squirrel/____.
You’ll notice in the last example, the behavior is staring, not lunging and barking. I prefer to use “leave it” to stop a behavior before it happens. After a behavior happens, I prefer to use different commands. Like if they’ve already picked up trash or the ball in their mouth, I teach and use a “drop” command. If they are already too happy meeting a new person, I’d probably have them “come” to me and then “sit.”
HOW TO TEACH “LEAVE IT”
There are several ways you can teach a “Leave It” command. This is just one way I’ve found that is easy for new adopters to use, for a dog that is food motivated (wants to eat food or treats). If your dog hasn’t learned “sit” and “stay” commands yet, you should teach those first.
I like doing this in the kitchen, as it’s where I or an adopter might likely use this command, to stop a dog from eating dropped food.
1. Get a handful of low value treats, like kibble or bits of carrot.
2. Attach a leash to your dog’s collar or harness.
3. Step on the leash to hold him in place, without you being pulled around. (Helps to wear shoes like sneakers with a grippy sole to hold the leash in place.)
Tip: Stepping on the leash works for dogs up to a certain size. If you have a bigger or stronger dog, you can hold the leash just try to lock your hand at your hip and not move. The reason I like stepping on the leash is there is no give which makes the dog think his actions are going to get himto the treat.
Don’t make him sit or give him any other command — it isn’t likely your dog will be already obeying a sit command when you drop something he shouldn’t eat in a real life setting.
4. Drop one low-value treat a few feet away, out of reach of your dog. Immediately after you drop it, say “Leave It” and wait.
Normally, your dog will try to go after the treat. You just stand there calmly while the dog tries and tries. Eventually, they will look away from the treat or pause or turn to you, trying to figure out how to get off the leash or to ask for help in getting the treat.
The moment they stop focusing on trying to go after the treat, even if it’s just a pause for a nanosecond, say, “Good dog!” Often they will then look at you if they are not already. If they look at you, repeat “Good dog!” again, and give them a treat out of your hand.
So you are rewarding him not focusing on the treat.
Repeat #4 four times. That’s it for the first session! You can do two or three sessions spread out during the day.You don’t want to over do it. (Pick up the four treats you dropped but don’t give those treats to him.)
Your dog will learn that if you drop a treat on the floor, what they do to get a treat is look at you. Some dogs pick this up almost immediately, others it can take a few days or even longer. Once your dog looks at you when you drop the treat and say leave it…
5. Advance to your dog on a looser leash, repeating the dropping and leave it command. Take as many days as you need to work up to the dog not on leash at all, leaving the dropped treat and getting one from your hand instead.
Now you can up the value of the dropped treats to something yummier! Just make sure you have the same or even more yummy treats in your hand.
Now you can start practicing this out on your leashed walks, using items other than food, like toys and other things that your dog wants to go up to outside, You are using “leave it” to mean “leave it alone — pay attention to me and you get a treat.”
Now you’ve taught your dog the super-helpful “Leave It” command!